Psychology graduates are often pictured as therapists, counselors, social workers, human resource officers, and teachers. These, however, are just some of the roles that psychology graduates land after college. If you are considering a degree in psychology, then let us help you answer the question “What can you do with a psychology degree?”
Psychology involves the study of human behavior, and psychology degree graduates are no longer limited to jobs that interact directly with people. Today, psychologists are also involved in programming artificial intelligence and machine learning, and they also study large amounts of data to identify patterns and predict behavior.
While the traditional roles for psychology graduates are still in high demand, psychologists are uniquely poised for the new technological age. Read on to explore possible career choices with a psychology degree.
Psychology is one of the most popular college majors in the United States. From 2016 to 2017, there were 117,000 psychology degrees given to college graduates, making it the fourth most popular degree in the country. A psychology degree is versatile enough for graduates to find employment in many fields. However, those who major in industrial and organizational psychology tend to earn the highest. The median annual wage for industrial and psychology majors was $66,000, based on numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau. On the other hand, the median annual wage for all psychology and social work majors was $47,000.
Source: National Center for Education Statistics
Psychology graduates often find a career path in the healthcare industry as people have become more aware of how mental health impacts their physical health. This is reflected in the job outlook data for psychologists. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job growth for psychologists is expected to grow at 14% from 2018 to 2028, which is higher than the projected growth for all occupations. Whereas medical doctors focus on the signs and symptoms of an illness, healthcare psychologists are more interested in its mental and emotional aspects. Healthcare psychology is even more important as people navigate the threat of the global COVID-19 pandemic. This field of psychology is key to helping understand people’s behavioral changes in response to a pandemic like handwashing, self-isolation, and panic buying. (Arden & Chilcot, 2020).
Behavioral disorder counselors help patients overcome Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders, drug and alcohol addiction, and other behavioral problems. They meet with patients to provide counseling to diagnose the problem and recommend treatment. They also work with family members to build a strong support system for the patient.
A bachelor’s degree in psychology is required for this role. However, advanced practice as a behavioral counselor requires a master’s degree.
Mental health counselors provide psychotherapy and counseling to people suffering from depression, anxiety, anger, and other illnesses. They work with clients to identify symptoms of mental health disorders. They also explore treatment options with clients and equip them with problem-solving skills.
One needs a master’s degree in mental health counseling to become a licensed professional mental health counselor. A bachelor’s degree in psychology will provide a good foundation to pursue further studies.
Psychotherapists help people deal with a variety of mental health problems, including anxiety and mood disorders. They provide talk therapy to people undergoing major stressors like divorce, sexual abuse, or the death of a loved one. Psychotherapists typically have a bachelor’s degree in psychology and either a master’s degree or a psychotherapy certification (Selva, 2020).
To be a psychotherapist, one must have a master’s degree in psychology or in any of the social sciences. In addition, one must also complete a post-graduate internship.
Play therapists work with children ages three to 12 who are going through difficult situations like divorce, domestic violence, abuse, and other similar situations. They use play as a tool to help children express their feelings about their situation. Afterward, they create therapy goals and may bring in the child’s family into the session.
Play therapists hold a master’s or doctorate degree in a mental health discipline and substantial general clinical experience.
Occupational therapists help people who have been injured, those who are ill or have a disability go on with their everyday lives. They provide exercises that aim to help the patient’s body recover and guide them through these activities. They can find employment in schools, hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and treatment centers.
In the U.S., occupational therapists are required to have a master’s degree in all states except Colorado. Most schools will accept an undergraduate degree in psychology for students to be part of their graduate program.
Art therapy uses the creative process to treat patients suffering from personal trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, and similar problems. Art therapists work with patients by letting them express themselves through art, then exploring the meaning behind their art.
To be an art therapist, you need to have a bachelor’s degree in psychology and then a master’s degree in art therapy.
Psychiatric social care workers help people with severe mental illness as they undergo hospitalization and other intense treatments. Their duties include doing psychosocial and risk assessments and providing crisis intervention and support. They also work together with psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, and other medical staff to give patient care.
Psychiatric social workers need to have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, social work, sociology, or other related majors. To obtain a license, most states require two years of supervised clinical experience.
People often mistakenly think that a psychiatrist and psychologist are the same. Though they have overlapping job descriptions, the major difference between them is that a psychiatrist is a trained medical doctor while a psychologist is not. In addition, psychiatrists can prescribe medication while psychologists generally cannot do so, unless they have taken up courses in psychopharmacology (Rehagen, n.d.).
An entry-level job as a medical social worker is possible for psychology degree holders, though many hospitals require a master’s degree. Medical social workers assist patients with difficult health conditions, such as terminal illness and end-of-life decisions. They also help patients through the discharge process and coordinate the needed resources for follow-up treatments. A bachelor’s degree in psychology or sociology can lead to medical social worker positions, though these are rare and have a limited job scope. More opportunities are available with a master’s degree in social work.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
When psychology majors wonder what to do with a psychology degree, law enforcement is not the first thing that comes to mind. However, a knowledge of human behavior can be helpful in understanding how criminals think. The soft skills one learns while earning a psychology degree, such as interpersonal awareness and critical thinking, can also be useful in law enforcement where one has to deal with high-risk, stressful situations.
Working as a corrections officer offers psychology degree holders a chance to be a crucial part of the justice system. In this role, one will be tasked to guard inmates in jails, prisons, and rehabilitation facilities. Corrections officers ensure the safety and security of the jail or prison by checking for contraband items and tampered locks, fences, or gates (Swed, 2020).
Corrections officer jobs at the federal level require a bachelor’s degree. In addition, candidates have to complete training before working on the field. In 2018, there were 434,300 jobs for correctional officers and jailers in the U.S. This number is expected to shrink by 7% until 2028.
Police psychologists apply psychological principles in providing clinical and mental health services and administrative support to police officers. They conduct individual or department-wide debriefings and interventions to help personnel deal with trauma and stress. Part of their job duties includes screening candidates to evaluate whether they are a good fit to be police officers. In addition, they may also assist traumatized victims during investigations.
Practicing police psychologists have a doctorate degree in psychology. Once a student has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, one can pursue a master’s degree in applied criminology, forensic psychology, or mental health counseling. Afterward, they can complete a doctoral program with units in police and public safety psychology.
Parole officers help individuals who have served jail time reintegrate into their communities. They see to it that they do not violate the terms of their parole. As such, they conduct interviews with the individual’s support team, arrange drug testing, and keep other records of their case.
Parole officers at the state and federal levels are required to have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, psychology, or social work. However, there might be some employers that require applicants to be holders of a master’s degree in criminal justice or a related field.
A probation officer has similar duties to a parole officer. However, probation officers work with first-time offenders or those who have committed nonviolent or minor crimes. Probation officers conduct evaluations of offenders to give recommendations to judges about the conditions of probation. They also do regular check-ins with offenders, where they are given status updates of their situation.
One can be a probation officer with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, criminal justice, social work, or other related degrees. In 2018, there were 91,600 jobs for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists in the U.S. This is expected to grow by 3% until 2028, with 94,600 jobs available by then.
Teachers with psychology backgrounds can use various concepts from their studies to create a classroom that is conducive to learning. The Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education, for instance, identified 20 principles from psychology that teachers can use for instructing pre-kindergarten to Grade 12 students. For example, cognitive and educational psychology concepts can be used to present material that takes into account students’ contextual learning (American Psychological Association, 2015). Though educating young minds may feel rewarding, a reality that teachers have to contend with is having meager pay. According to the National Education Association, the average pay for teachers has decreased by 4.5% in the past 10 years when adjusted for inflation.
Having a psychology degree equips preschool teachers with an understanding of cognitive development, which can be applied to early childhood education (eNotes, 2015). Such knowledge can be used to ascertain milestones and detect developmental problems. Preschool teachers help kids gain competencies, such as social and emotional development, language and literacy, and more. Most preschool teachers work at child daycare services. They can also be employed at religious, professional, and civic organizations.
Educational requirements for preschool teaching jobs vary from one state to another. While there has been a push for preschool teachers to have at least a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, there are states which require a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a bachelor’s degree in other fields with some psychology units. In Colorado, for example, a bachelor’s degree in child psychology is one of the degree options you can pursue to be a preschool teacher. On the other hand, in Georgia, preschool teachers must have a psychology degree coupled with an associate degree, technical college diploma, or technical certificate of credit with a major in early childhood education. In addition, there are states that also require the candidate to have student teaching experience or undergo a teacher preparation program.
Elementary school teachers instruct kindergarten to fifth-grade students on core subjects like English, math, and science. They prepare lesson plans and enforce rules to keep the classroom orderly. In addition to an undergraduate degree, one also needs a state certification to be a teacher. In addition, though it is not required to have a master’s degree, having one could lead to career advancement.
One can share the basics of human behavior learned in an undergraduate course as a high school psychology teacher. U.S. high schools usually have an introductory psychology course or an Advanced Placement (AP) course which earns students college credit. Aside from your psychology degree, you also need teaching licensure or certification.
Special education teachers work with students who have mental, emotional, physical, and learning disabilities. They create Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) according to students’ needs. They teach them basic life skills and other skills they need to live independently. Those interested in this kind of job can take a psychology degree with a focus on special education. At private schools, it is not necessary to have a teaching certification while in public schools, it is a requirement.
Source: National Education Association
Psychology graduates can also find jobs in the corporate world, especially in fields that require persuasion and people skills. The common career path is in human resources (HR). In the U.S., the biggest employers of HR professionals are companies and enterprises, local government, hospitals, employment services firms, and computer system design companies. On the other hand, companies and enterprises tend to be the top-paying employers, where HR managers can earn $121,390. Psychology graduates can also find jobs in less traditional fields like advertising, sales, or management consulting. In one way or another, the end goal for these roles is to ensure a company’s profitability. This has led Dempsey (2018) to observe that psychological knowledge is being used to support neoliberal capitalist structures by manipulating and controlling individuals.
Career counselors help professionals choose careers that match their skills and desires. They employ career planning strategies, including skills assessment and personality tests to work out career options for clients. They can work in outplacement, recruitment, and professional headhunting.
Bachelor degree holders of psychology, counseling, or vocational psychology can become career counselors. A license is required for those who want to go into private practice.
Psychology concepts like personality theory and rewards and motivation make psychology graduates a good fit within an organization’s human resource departments. In this role, they are responsible for hiring people in the right position considering the candidate’s strengths. They also study organizational effectiveness and gauge employees’ job satisfaction. Those who would like to further boost their knowledge in this area can take up a master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology.
Advertising managers oversee campaigns for companies that are meant to create interest in a product or service. Psychology graduates have an understanding of human behavior and persuasion, which can be useful in advertising research. Advertising research, which is the study of how to make effective ads, has some overlap with some areas of psychology. These include research methodology, survey design, and statistics (Cossuto, 2014).
Sales representatives sell products and services that fit their customers’ needs. Salespeople often work with data, so a psychology major’s knowledge of statistics will be helpful. In addition, salespeople and those who finished a public relations degree share some common traits with psychologists that can make them successful in the field. These include building empathy, listening skills, communicating effectively, problem-solving skills, and emotional intelligence (Newfield, 2016).
Management analysts take a look at organizational issues and make recommendations to drive business efficiency. They conduct interviews and on-site observations to come up with changes around an organization’s systems or processes. Management analysts can be part of a consulting company or work as self-employed individuals.
Analysts are required to have a bachelor’s degree though there are some companies that prefer them to have a master’s degree in business administration. Those interested in pursuing this career path can also apply for certification.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Research jobs in psychology embrace a wide range of subdisciplines, so there will be many opportunities for inquisitive minds to contribute to the growing field of knowledge. According to Howitt (2010), psychology can possibly “embrace a wider variety of interests” once it reaches a critical mass. Today, one can choose to practice in many fields in psychology, with the American Psychological Association (APA) counting 56 divisions that represent subdisciplines and topical areas. Popular areas in psychological research include abnormal psychology, experimental psychology, criminal psychology, and developmental psychology, to name a few.
Though there are varied subfields in psychology, only a handful stand out as the highest-earning fields to work in. Based on APA data, jobs in industrial/organizational psychology have the highest median salaries, followed by jobs in experimental psychology (Lin, Christidis, & Stamm, 2015).
Source: American Psychological Association
Market research analysts apply their knowledge of consumer psychology to help determine the products and services that consumers want to buy. They do this through focus groups, surveys, and questionnaires. Focus groups, in particular, are one of the qualitative research methods that Howitt (2010) says will form part of mainstream psychology. Market analysts also present their findings to external clients or internal marketing teams as well as scope out the competition’s market penetration.
One can gain an entry-level market research analyst job with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Those who are looking into getting senior or leadership roles can pursue a master’s degree in psychology, marketing research, or consumer psychology.
Based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for market research analysts will remain high years from now. The projected job growth for this role is at 20%, which is significantly higher than the expected growth for all occupations, which is at 5%. By 2028, there will be a total of 821,000 market research analyst jobs.
A research assistant is responsible for the planning and conduct of clinical and non-clinical research. They mostly do clerical tasks, such as administering and scoring tests. They also see to it that experimental and research data is well-kept and readily accessible.
With a bachelor’s degree in psychology, one can be a research or administrative assistant for psychologists. Typical work settings include colleges and universities, though one may also find work in the government, private companies, and non-profit organizations (Scottsdale, n.d.).
Experimental psychologists devote their time to gaining a better understanding of human behavior. They use scientific methods to collect data and present their findings in peer-reviewed journals or at conferences. They do testing on humans and animals to study processes related to perception, motivation, learning, and memory. Though the job requires a doctoral degree, there are entry-level opportunities as well for bachelor degree holders.
Clinical coordinators work with principal investigators in overseeing the conduct of clinical studies. The coordinator is tasked with evaluating the eligibility requirements of potential candidates, helping investigators through the informed consent process, and registering eligible patients. They also manage research project databases and monitor study budgets. Clinical coordinators may work in health services or community health settings.
One can be a clinical coordinator with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, nursing, or social work. However, there may be some institutions that prefer candidates to have a master’s degree.
There can be many reasons not to go to college, but many will argue that having a degree can be an advantage in the job market. After graduation, graduates usually ask themselves “What can I do with a psychology degree?” or “What are the goals of psychology anyway?” As the jobs above show, a psychology degree is a popular undergraduate course that can lead to various career paths. Those who want to go the traditional route can consider careers in counseling and therapy. Another option is law enforcement, which can involve protecting wildlife or helping offenders change for the better.
On the other hand, an understanding of cognitive development will make psychology an excellent foundation for those who want to teach. Lastly, they also have diverse options in the corporate world, from HR to advertising, sales, and management consultancy. Most of these jobs require an undergraduate psychology degree, especially entry-level jobs. However, graduates can pursue certifications or further education to advance their careers and be more competitive in the job market.