If you have an interest in solving challenging, everyday problems that intersect with human behavior, a bachelor's in applied psychology could be the degree for you. Applied psychology concerns the use of psychological methods to solve practical issues in a variety of contexts, including government, industry, and education. A bachelor's in applied psychology program typically includes the study of cognitive, developmental, and organizational psychology, as well as research, statistics, and counseling.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, psychology continues to be one of the top-five degrees in the U.S. with over 16% of undergraduates choosing it as their major. Understanding the impact of technology on human behavior and designing better smart devices and products for use in healthcare and transportation are just a couple examples of career paths and opportunities for professionals with an applied psychology background.
This guide will provide students with an overview of why you might choose a bachelor's in applied psychology degree, how to find the right bachelor's program, what to expect from an applied psychology degree program, and resources and organizations that can be of aid in furthering your education and professional network.
Should I Get a Bachelor's in Applied Psychology?
Analytical thinking, research, and communication -- these are core skills emphasized in applied psychology degree programs. In addition, an applied psychology degree provides you with the opportunity to develop expertise, such as the ability to deliver a witness testimony with a specialization in forensics or law. Applied psychology also offers interdisciplinary options that allow you to combine applied psychology with disciplines such as public health. Choosing a bachelor's in applied psychology gives you the opportunity to pursue a variety of career paths and gives you the critical-thinking and people skills you will need to succeed.
Today's undergraduates can choose between applying for an online or on-campus program. On-campus programs are a great option if you're interested in a full-time career right after college, or if you have plans to continue graduate study in psychology or a related field. On-campus programs may also offer more opportunities to develop hands-on skills in an immersive environment. On the other hand, professionals looking to make a career change or who have limited time to attend classes may find online programs to be an ideal choice. Students who are balancing a busy work schedule with school and family commitments may also find an online program less stressful and more conducive to their lifestyle.
Many schools for applied psychology offer students the opportunity to complete an internship or research project that's of interest to them. Participating in an on-campus program may serve as a bridge to a wider network of academic and professional contacts who can help students find a place to present their research or publish their work. Hands-on research experiences and internships help you build a professional portfolio that puts you ahead of the competition when interviewing for careers after graduation. This may be a key factor in determining whether an on-campus or online program is best for you.
What Can I Do With a Bachelor's in Applied Psychology?
An applied psychology degree prepares you for a variety of careers working with people and solving problems in fields that include business, healthcare, product design, and law. Applied psychology is unique in that it offers opportunities to broaden your career scope through business or entering a specialized area like occupational health or counseling. Individuals with an entrepreneurial spirit may also have an interest in serving as an independent consultant to corporations and organizations, helping develop employee and leadership trainings, and performing organizational assessments. Whether you're more introverted or extroverted might determine your specific career path, but in general psychologists tend to be problem-solvers, empathetic, and have a high level of self-awareness. Below are some of the career paths a student with a bachelor's in applied psychology degree might pursue.
- Market Research Analyst
Market research analysts assess market conditions and the potential impact on the sales success of a product or service. Analysts apply their understanding of audience, including what solutions people want and what they're willing to pay for that need, to help companies bring their products and services to market. Most analyst positions require at least a bachelor's degree paired with strong analytical and math skills.
Median Annual Salary: $63,230*
- School and Career Counselor
School counselors work with middle and high school students to help them develop the social and academic skills necessary to succeed in school and after graduation. Career counselors guide adults in exploring potential career interests and paths. Most counselor positions require state licensure; school counselors may also require a master's degree in a related field.
Median Annual Salary: $55,410*
- Substance Abuse, Behavioral, and Mental Health Counselor
These types of counselors provide support for individuals suffering from afflictions like drug abuse, alcoholism, and other mental and behavioral disorders. Counselors may work in a variety of settings, from prisons to private practices. Most counselor positions require a bachelor's degree, and mental health counselors often complete a master's degree in order to practice.
Median Annual Salary: $43,300*
- Training and Development Specialist
A training and development specialist helps assess the need for and develop employee and leadership training programs across industries. In addition to a bachelor's degree, training and development specialists benefit from experience working with teams and organizations, as well as strong communication skills.
Median Annual Salary: $60,360*
Psychologists conduct research on human cognitive, social, and emotional processes, and make hypotheses for why humans behave and interact in a variety of contexts. Specializations include healthcare, criminal science, and education. Psychologists typically need at least a master's degree in their area of specialty; many fields will also require a license to practice.
Median Annual Salary: $77,030*
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
How to Choose a Bachelor's in Applied Psychology Program
A bachelor's in applied psychology degree typically requires students to complete at least 120 credit hours, including general elective, core, and major requirements. Several factors help determine how long it takes to complete an applied psychology degree program, including attendance as a part- or full-time student; ability to transfer existing college-level credits; and availability of specific classes during the semester -- particularly with online and blended programs.
If interested in an online program, check the website or call the office of registrar to ensure the program is authorized and offered in your home state. Location of a program, especially if planning to attend on campus, is a key consideration. Factors like cost of living, quality of life, and employment opportunities -- especially if you intend to stay in the area after graduation -- are important to research.
Estimate total program cost over the course of an entire program and use that number to compare across schools. If planning to live on campus, prospective students should research aspects like cost of tuition per credit hour, additional mandatory fees, and room and meal costs. Most schools offer information about available grants, scholarships, and other financial aid on their tuition pages.
Course offerings are another element that can help you decide on the best applied psychology program for your goals. Read through the major course titles and descriptions offered, paying attention to any unique courses of interest, and include these when comparing programs across schools. Also consider the types of hands-on opportunities offered. Many programs require a capstone project, but not all offer internships or faculty-advised research opportunities.
Some schools may also offer interdisciplinary degrees, like applied psychology combined with public health. Determine whether your existing career path or career interests are specific enough to consider exploring a more specialized program option.
Accreditation for Bachelor's in Applied Psychology Programs
When applying to an applied psychology program, it's essential to check that a program has proper accreditation. There are two types of accreditation that are highly valued: regional and programmatic. Unlike regional accreditation, which covers a variety of programs and schools, programmatic accreditation is specific to one program and area of expertise. The American Psychological Association (APA) is the most reputable national accrediting body for psychology education and training programs in the U.S.
Applied psychology bachelor's degree programs with APA status are held to the high standards established by the association, which assess programs routinely to ensure compliance. State and other forms of financial aid are typically reserved only for students accepted into programs that are programmatically accredited. Most state licensing requirements also dictate that applicants have a degree from an APA-accredited school.
Bachelor's in Applied Psychology Program Admissions
Planning ahead for admissions requirements is a smart move that will save time once you're ready to apply to programs. Check to ensure that you meet any specific admissions requirements, like additional math courses completed in high school. While most on-campus bachelor's programs don't require prior college credit or work experience, there are exceptions. Consideration of entrance requirements like SAT scores and minimum GPA are important, but they're often not the only factors that dictate whether a student is accepted into a program. When in doubt, contact a school's admissions counselor for guidance in helping determine whether a school's program is a good fit for you.
Once you've selected your top degree programs, organize them by priority and consider the costs. While there's no limit to the number of programs that you can apply to, application fees may play a factor in limiting that number. Also pay attention to admission deadlines. Some schools offer rolling admissions and will accept applications throughout the year, while others publish specific deadlines for each term or semester. Many schools also offer priority application deadlines for maximum financial aid and scholarship opportunities.
- Minimum GPA: A typical minimum high school GPA for a bachelor's applied psychology degree program is a cumulative 3.0. Some programs may allow applicants to bypass this requirement with a specified minimum SAT score.
- Application: Undergraduate admissions for first-time college students typically include an online application. Many U.S. schools now use the Common Application, which allows students to enter all required information into one application and use it apply to multiple schools.
- Transcripts: Most colleges request an official copy of your high school transcript or, if you're a transfer student, an official or certified copy of all post-secondary transcripts. Some high schools may provide a specific number of official transcripts and then charge a small fee for additional printed copies, while other high schools may charge a one-time fee for an unlimited number of official transcripts. Some schools may accept GED scores from applicants who have not graduated high school. Colleges typically charge a small fee for each official transcript request.
- Letters of Recommendation: Many programs require at least one letter of recommendation from a teacher, volunteer leader, work supervisor, team coach, or other mentor. It's a good idea to request recommendation letters from at least three different people in preparation. Plan to request letters about six weeks in advance of when you need them.
- Test Scores: When applying to a program, pay attention to materials requested by the program and those requested by the school for all undergraduate admissions. While many applied psychology bachelor's degree programs do not specifically require students to submit test scores, most undergraduate admission requirements for freshmen include SAT exam scores. Though acceptable test scores are largely dependent on the school, aim for a minimum composite score of 1100 on the SAT.
- Application Fee: While some online programs waive their application fee, the typical fee for a full-time undergraduate program ranges from $50 to $70. Some schools will waive the fee if students have applied to that school in a previous semester or if they have a relative who has attended the school.
What Else Can I Expect From a Bachelor's in Applied Psychology Program?
Like many undergraduate programs, a bachelor's in applied psychology program may look different from school to school. Some programs offer specialized concentrations, while others focus on preparing students more broadly across the fields of psychology. The specific courses required and offered across programs will vary depending on the school chosen. Below are some of the concentrations that are available for a student seeking a specialized applied psychology degree.
|Child Advocacy||A concentration in child advocacy provides individuals with the communication and problem-solving skills to effectively advocate for children in risky environments. Coursework covers the psychological foundations and methodologies of child development from infant to adolescence. Students also look at factors like substance abuse, crime prevention, and domestic violence in assessing a child's well being.||Potential careers for a concentration in child advocacy include child welfare specialist, residential supervisor, and youth counselor.|
|Forensic Psychology||A forensic psychology track explores psychological behaviors in law enforcement and the legal system. Coursework includes family counseling, criminal behavior, and legal procedures. Students take a critical look at behavior from sociological and other interdisciplinary perspectives. Practitioners may work with clients in law enforcement agencies, businesses, and mental health centers.||Career opportunities for a concentration in forensic psychology include a criminologist or case manager.|
|Media and Technology||A concentration in media and technology is a newer field that explores the impact of evolving technologies, like social media and mobile devices, on human behavior. An emphasis is placed on studying the ways humans interact and communicate with each other.||Career opportunities include positions in market research and customer experience, UX design and research, and media and communications.|
|Organizational Psychology||The organizational psychology concentration focuses on dynamics in the workplace such as culture, team interactions, leadership, and behavioral stigmas. Through coursework, students explore research and real-world issues in organizational effectiveness, recruitment, and management.||A concentration in organizational psychology sets individuals up for several career paths, including as a human resources manager, director of diversity and equity, and organizational management consultant.|
|Clinical Psychology||A concentration in clinical psychology provides broad study of the theory and research of psychological disorders. Students investigate the causes, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of behavioral and cognitive disorders. Other relevant topics include multicultural studies and social psychology.||In addition to setting students up for graduate-level studies, a concentration in clinical psychology can lead to a career as a substance abuse counselor or residential assistant.|
Courses in a Bachelor's in Applied Psychology Program
Applied psychology courses differ across schools, though many programs offer similar foundational courses. Schools tend to offer a more diverse pool of higher-level topics of study, which can lead to different career paths. The following course selections provide an idea of what common topics you might see in a program's curriculum.
- Developmental Psychology
This course covers the science and theories of cognitive, physical, and social development of human beings from infant to adult. The debate on nature versus nurture stems from developmental psychology. Understanding human development is a foundation for any psychologist, especially those who choose a career in education.
- Abnormal Psychology
The study of abnormal psychology includes topics like anxiety, schizophrenia, and affective and neurotic disorders. Students learn the causes behind these disorders, examine case studies and clinical research, and discuss therapy and other treatments. An understanding in this topic is key to practicing as a counselor or therapist.
- Cultural Psychology
Cultural psychology explores answers to questions like “How does culture shape our cognitive and emotional functioning?” and “What happens when different cultural groups meet and interact?” Coursework covers design of cross-cultural studies and culturally sensitive strategies in group settings. Potential career paths include a director of diversity, equity, and inclusion in an organizational setting or a governmental advisor on culturally sensitive topics.
- Statistics for Behavioral Sciences
Coursework centers on the statistical concepts and tools, such as descriptive statistics and correlational methods, for understanding data in the social and behavioral sciences. Core topics include probability theory, statistical inference, and significance testing. Understanding how to describe and organize data is important for any psychological researcher, from academic to medical settings.
- Professional Ethics in Psychology
Professional ethics helps build the mindset, behaviors, and skills necessary for a psychologist in any career. Discussion topics may include ethical issues involved in psychological research, legal issues in social or clinical settings, and care and treatment of patients with mental disorders. A strong background in ethics is critical for anyone considering a career as a researcher, social worker, or counselor.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor's in Applied Psychology?
A bachelor's in applied psychology typically takes two to four years to complete, but this is dependent on whether you're enrolled as a part- or full-time student, as well as if you're a first-time college student or continuing your post-secondary education. Transfer students may be able to shorten the time necessary to complete their degree by submitting qualifying credits, which are usually evaluated during the application process.
Blended programs, or those offering a combination of on-campus, online, and/or evening classes may be the best option for students who are balancing school schedules with work. Students looking to finish their degree at their own pace may choose to focus on finding an online program that offers more flexibility in course sequence and completion times.
Some bachelor's degree programs require students to enroll full time and offer courses in sequential order over the year, though students may be able to enroll in additional courses during a semester for an extra cost. Students should consider all of these factors as they determine which program is the best fit.
How Much Is a Bachelor's in Applied Psychology?
A bachelor's in applied psychology degree program will cost you an average of $31,500 annually. However, program costs will vary depending on several factors, including enrollment status, residential status, total credits required, student fees, military status, and living expenses.
In-state students attending an on-campus or blended bachelor's degree program will typically pay less than out-of-state students. Full-time students usually pay an annual tuition, while part-time student tuition is usually priced per credit hour. Mandatory fees generally increase if a student attends a program on campus, though most programs have additional fees and insurance costs; these may be outlined in a fee list or included in total tuition costs. Common fees include course and instructor fees, technology fees, and graduation fees. Other costs to consider, especially if you decide to attend a program on campus, include housing costs, meal plans, parking fees, commuting expenses, and traveling expenses.
Certifications and Licenses a Bachelor's in Applied Psychology Prepares For
- Licensed Professional Counselor
An LPC is able to provide mental health and substance abuse support and services to individuals, groups, and organizations. Applying for an LPC requires that individuals complete a master's degree in counseling or a related field.
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Psychologists with an LCSW are qualified to provide therapy to individuals, groups, and families. Settings include hospitals, private practices, and schools. Earning a bachelor's in applied psychology is a solid foundation for continuing graduate studies in social work, as a master's in social work is required to apply for an LCSW.
- Certification in Occupational Therapy
An OT works to assess individuals with physical impairments and provide personalized interventions. OT certification is required in all 50 states, and a master's in occupational therapy is required to earn OT certification.
- Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst
A BCBA offers opportunities to analyze the behavior of children and adults, often those with disabilities, and implement interventions. A BCBA is available to anyone with an accredited bachelor's degree, though candidates must also complete appropriate coursework and a supervised practicum.
- Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor Certification
A CADC is a national and international credential with worldwide reciprocity. Professionals with a CADC are qualified to provide substance abuse recovery services in various health settings, such as outreach centers and inpatient centers, and also manage individual clinical cases. Applicants must have a bachelor's degree and register through their state of residence.
Resources for Applied Psychology Students
The NIMH is an informational resource and tool database for the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses. Researchers and practitioners can find information on treatment of mental illness, apply for grants and research training, and join a current study.
The APA provides undergraduate students with a current list of research programs, fellowships, and internships at academic institutions and other organizations across the U.S.
The ASPPB provides useful licensure information, including a sequenced guide for the path to licensure. Students will also find a list of APA-accredited programs, exam information, and a helpful glossary and acronym library.
A collection of therapy resources and tools, Psychology Tools includes worksheets, measurement tools, and articles on topics from data gathering to specific mental health problems. The self-help section offers up to five free downloads per month.
Scholarships.com provides a comprehensive list of psychology scholarships for students with details on requirements, scholarship amounts, and application deadlines. Each opportunity includes an application link and important contact information.
Professional Organizations in Applied Psychology
It's never too early to start thinking about professional growth and networking opportunities, even as a first-year college student. Professional organizations provide a wealth of resources to current students and recent graduates alike, including access to annual conferences, links to research awards and grants, job research tools (like career roadmaps and financial planning tools), and listings of accredited graduate school programs. Many schools and organizations offers students discounted rates for full or partial membership, as well as access to student and professional listservs.