Psychology is a multifaceted discipline that deals with the science of mental processes and behaviors. Psychology majors can pursue a variety of disciplines within the field, including clinical, behavioral, counseling, and school psychology.
As one of the most popular bachelor's degrees conferred, a psychology degree prepares students for success in a variety of career settings. While some psychology majors go on to pursue a master's or doctorate, others find employment with a bachelor's degree in fields such as business or education. Regardless of their desired path, psychology majors are competitive for many jobs due to their strong critical thinking and communication skills.
Career Paths in Psychology
As a multidisciplinary field, psychology encompasses many different career paths. For example, if you want to help people overcome drug and alcohol addictions, you may find employment as a substance abuse counselor. Alternatively, if you prefer working in a business environment, helping managers develop and hire new talent, you may choose to work as an organizational psychologist.
If you are interested in working directly with patients in health and social care settings, you may consider a career as a clinical psychologist; however, most clinical positions require a doctorate and license to practice. Each psychology career path has different licensing and educational requirements, but all psychologists should possess strong communication skills, patience, and analytical skills.
Addiction and Recovery
Addiction and substance abuse counselors help people recover from drug addiction and alcoholism. They may work with patients individually or in group settings. Most states require substance abuse counselors to hold a master's or doctoral degree.
Behavioral psychologists study patterns between the mind and behaviors. They provide counseling services to patients with behavioral and mental health disorders. Careers in therapy and social work often require at least a master's degree.
Child and Adolescent Psychology
Child and adolescent psychologists study behavioral developments and mental disorders. These professionals often work with children who have learning disabilities or suffered trauma at an early age. Most clinical positions require at least a master's degree.
Counseling psychologists work with people who suffer from mental health issues. They focus on improving their patients' well-being and ability to function better in their daily lives. Most states require mental health counselors to hold a master's or doctoral degree.
Organizational psychologists use research methods to solve issues, improve morale, and increase productivity in the workplace. They develop training programs and are often involved in recruitment and hiring processes. Organizational psychologists typically need a master's degree.
Psychology Career Outlook
As more people turn to psychologists for help with mental and behavioral issues, the demand for psychologists continues to increase. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the overall employment for all types of psychologists is projected to grow 3% from 2019-2029, which is about as fast as the average projected growth for all other U.S. occupations.
Additionally, the median annual salary for all types of psychologists was $80,370 in 2019, which is more than double that of the median wage for all other occupations ($39,810). However, because psychologists work in a variety of fields, earnings vary greatly based on a worker's industry and occupation type. For example, while the median annual wage for organizational psychologists was $92,880 in 2019, clinical, counseling, and school psychologists made a median annual wage of $78,200.
How to Start a Career in Psychology
Careers as a clinical psychologist usually require a doctoral degree and state licensure. However, a bachelor's degree in psychology can open the door for entry-level roles in fields like business and education. Bachelor's degree-holders can work in marketing, advertising, and sales positions, applying their understanding of human behavior through a consumer lens.
Most careers in psychology can be unlocked by earning an advanced degree. With a master's degree, you can pursue many nonclinical psychology roles, such as a school counselor or an industrial-organizational psychologist; both of these positions feature strong earning potential.
With a doctoral degree, clinical positions in counseling, social work, and therapy become available. Graduate students can earn a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. These programs often include at least one year of supervised clinical experience. Once completed, candidates must successfully pass an exam to become a licensed psychologist.
While some entry-level roles can be found with an associate degree, these programs typically serve as the starting point to a student's academic journey. Careers for psychology majors typically require at least a bachelor's degree, while most practicing psychologists need an advanced degree and state licensure.The sections below provide an overview of program offerings and common psychology careers found at each education level in psychology.
Associate programs in psychology usually require about 60 credits and take roughly two years of full-time study to complete. Part-time students usually need a few additional semesters to graduate, though some programs offer accelerated tracks that can help speed up the time it takes to satisfy degree requirements.
Associate programs usually include general education courses in subjects such as math, English, and the social sciences. Students also explore introductory psychology courses.
With an associate degree, students can pursue entry-level positions as a social service assistant or community health worker. As most careers for psychology majors require at least a bachelor's degree, students should view an associate program as the start of their academic career. To help facilitate the transition from an associate program into a bachelor's program, many community colleges maintain partner agreements with four-year universities, making it easy to apply and transfer credits.
Bachelor's programs in psychology typically require 120 credits and take four years of full-time study to complete. However, learners who have previously earned an associate degree may only need two years to satisfy degree requirements. Part-time students who have not earned any college-level credit may need 6-8 years to earn their bachelor's degree.
Undergraduate psychology programs feature diverse courses in topics like adult development, cognitive processes, applied behavior management, and research methods. In addition to foundational psychology courses, many programs allow students to focus their studies even further by choosing a concentration or focus. Potential options include counseling, addiction, and industrial-organization psychology.
With a bachelor's degree in psychology, students unlock many entry-level job opportunities in a variety of fields, including business, education, and healthcare. Within these fields, a graduate can work as a research analyst, marketing and advertising agent, or training and development specialist. While some psychology majors enter the workforce after earning their bachelor's degree, many go on to pursue a master's or doctoral degree. For the most lucrative careers in psychology, an advanced degree is usually required.
A master's degree serves as the minimum education requirement for nonclinical psychologist positions. Master's programs in psychology usually consist of 30-60 credits and take one or two years to complete, depending on a student's area of study and enrollment status. However, graduation timelines can vary greatly — master's programs in psychology typically require students to gain field experience by completing a supervised internship.
While all master's programs in psychology emphasize research and the sciences, your core graduate curriculum depends on your area of focus. If you are specializing in industrial-organizational psychology, for example, your classes may feature topics in human resources, training and development, and group dynamics. Alternatively, if you are focusing on school counseling, your courses may include topics like child development, guidance counseling, and mental health and wellness.
Depending on your focus, a master's degree may qualify you to work as a marriage and family therapist, school counselor, or an industrial-organizational psychologist. For clinical careers in psychology, however, a doctoral degree is required.
Doctoral programs in psychology typically require at least 60 credits and can take anywhere from 5-7 years to complete depending on the dissertation, research, and clinical training requirements. These programs tend to be extremely research heavy and are reserved for students who wish to enter into clinical roles in psychology.
The type of training and coursework depends on a student's professional career goals. For example, aspiring health service psychologists may focus their studies on mental health and trauma relief, while aspiring forensic psychologists may study topics like criminal law and ethical legal practices.
All doctoral programs in psychology, however, place an emphasis on research methods, statistical analysis, and psychometrics. Once completed, students must fulfill their state's supervised clinical hour requirements and pass the national exam to become eligible for licensure.
Certifications and/or Licensure
Psychologists are required to become licensed in the state in which they intend to practice. To become eligible for a license, candidates must meet a set of requirements. Along with meeting educational requirements, they must accrue 1,500-6,000 supervised clinical hours — depending on the state requirements — and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology.
Passing scores for the EPPP vary by state, but most require at least a 70%. Some states also require a seperate jurisprudence exam. The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards hosts an interactive handbook that outlines each state's requirements.
School psychologists, however, have a slightly different set of licensing requirements. Rather than earning the general psychology license, they must obtain a license in school psychology specifically. Most states require candidates to pass a teacher certification test, and some states also require internship hours.
A psychologist maintains their license by completing continuing education credits. Most states require licensure renewal every 1-3 years. The amount of required credits, however, vary greatly by state. For example, Hawai'i only requires 18 credits every two years, while Vermont requires 60 credits over that same time span. The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) keeps an organized database of each state's deadlines and credit requirements.
Alternatively, while all psychologists are required to hold licensure, they are not required to earn board certification. However, some psychologists choose to earn certification to demonstrate a high level of competency in their respective field of psychology. To become certified by ABPP, psychologists must present their credentials, submit practice samples for peer review, and take an oral exam. The board requires neuropsychologists and forensic psychologists to take additional written exams.
Another way that psychologists can further advance their career is by joining professional groups. Through affiliations with the American Psychological Association, each state has their own association that is designed to provide professional development resources and a means of support.
Since psychologists often deal with a high degree of stress, these associations give them a chance to connect with colleagues and discuss challenges they face on the job. Through blogs and forums, psychologists can also discuss new ideas and share their findings to further advance the field.
Apart from state associations, psychology professionals should also consider becoming involved in national organizations. Psychologists can join the National Alliance of Professional Psychology Providers, while counselors can join the American Counseling Association. These groups may offer continuing education opportunities, annual conferences, and exclusive publications.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What are the career options for psychology students?
A bachelor's degree in psychology can lead to employment opportunities in fields such as business, education, and healthcare. Within these fields, students can pursue roles as analysts, teachers, and childcare workers. Clinical psychology positions, however, typically require a doctoral degree. Clinical psychologists often work in private practices, hospitals, and health clinics, assisting patients with mental health and behavioral issues.
- How do I start a career in psychology?
The minimum degree requirement to become a practicing psychologist is a master's degree, though many of the top careers in psychology require a doctorate. Additionally, most states require one or two years of a supervised clinical experience to qualify for a license. Once you meet the state's requirements, you must successfully pass a national exam.
- What are the highest-paying jobs in psychology?
Salaries for psychologists vary greatly depending on their field, experience, and industry type. In 2019, industrial-organizational psychologists earned a median annual wage of $92,880, while clinical and counseling psychologists earned $78,200, according to the BLS. Additionally, psychologists working in government roles earned a median annual wage of $96,870, while those employed in elementary and secondary schools earned a median annual wage of $76,960.
- Is a psychology degree worth it?
While it may be difficult to enter into high-paying jobs in psychology with only a bachelor's degree, psychology majors can work in fields like business and education. Additionally, if you're passionate about helping others, you can also pursue entry-level roles in the social services sectors. Psychology majors who go on to earn a graduate degree can access lucrative careers with high levels of responsibility.