Best Research Universities for Psychology Degrees

Best Research Universities for Psychology Degrees

The best psychology research universities are those with rich histories of influence, proven through the work produced by the program’s faculty and alumni. Beyond demonstrating scholarly impact in the field, the best psychology degree programs maximize your opportunities to interact with outstanding psychology faculty.

Psychology bachelor’s degrees are the 4th most popular undergraduate degree across all student demographics. Only liberal studies, business, and nursing rank ahead of it. Psychology degrees are three times more common among women than men, and rank among the top 5 bachelor’s degrees for both Black people and Hispanics (according to degree-earner numbers reported by the National Center for Educational Statistics).

While psychology is obviously a sensible major if you’re planning on becoming a clinical psychologist, majoring in psychology is also a great starting point for a career as a school counselor, special educator, addiction specialist, criminologist, forensics expert and countless other professions. Some psychology majors will complete a double major, or a minor, in a complimentary area such as education or law enforcement. Beyond that, psychology degrees can be useful in many areas of business like marketing, human resources, conflict resolution, and business management. Our top reason to choose a psycholgoy degree is that you learn to think about how people think, and thus the versatility of a psychology degree is practically limitless.

As a psychology major, you’ll study human development, cognition, and behavior. You’ll learn skills like counseling, behavioral therapy, and clinical treatment for mental health disorders. Students who plan to ultimately become practicing clinical psychologists will be required to earn their doctoral degree in psychology from a program that is accredited by The APA Commission on Accreditation, and subsequently qualify for and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). However, majoring in psychology as an undergraduate can provide a starting point for a wide range of careers in school counseling, substance abuse treatment, special education, and much more. The best schools for psychology are those which are regionally accredited, which offer a full array of psychology concentrations, and which give you the chance to work with the best and most influential professors and classmates.

Frequently Asked Questions About Psychology Bachelor’s Degrees

While psychology is obviously a sensible major if you’re planning on becoming a clinical psychologist, majoring in psychology is also a great starting point for a career as a school counselor, special educator, addiction specialist, criminologist, forensics expert and countless other professions. Some psychology majors will complete a double major, or a minor, in a complimentary area such as education or law enforcement.

And if you wish to continue into a doctoral program and ultimately become a practicing psychologist or psychiatrist, this is a natural starting point. Today, top influencers in psychology are breaking new ground in Positive Psychology, the psychology of decision making, the computational theory of mind, and much more.

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This four-year undergraduate degree is extremely popular, not just among those who will go on to earn an advanced degree, but for those who will apply the concepts of psychology to a wide range of fields including education, marketing, law enforcement, child welfare, and much more. Organizations of every kind seek mental health professionals, human resource specialists, and organizational leaders with a strong understanding of motivation, behavior, and relationships. Your bachelor’s degree could qualify you to fill one of these needs.

And for those who earn a terminal degree and ascend to the top of the field, earnings are well above the average for all professions. For instance, the Bureau of Labor of Statistics (BLS) indicates that the 2019 median pay for psychologists was $80,370; for postsecondary psychology teachers, $76,620; and for Industrial-Organizational Psychologists, $97,260. These salaries far exceed a national average median for all jobs that falls just under $40,000 per year.

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Psychology is a valuable major for anyone interested in learning how the human mind works and what makes people tick. A psychology major will give you insights into how people interact socially, what makes them go off the deep end (abnormal psychology), how to test for personality traits, what the brain can tell us about emotions, and much more. A bachelor’s degree in psychology can prepare you for work in fields as diverse as psychological testing, counseling, and special-needs learning. It is also a great springboard to other areas of graduate study, such as law, education, politics, sociology, and social work.

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Psychology tends to be an easy major. It is classified as a social science rather than as a natural or exact science. As such, you can major in psychology without needing to know many, if any, STEM subjects (STEM = Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics). Moreover, by focusing on less technical fields in psychology (such as social psychology or counseling), it’s possible to keep the technical demands of a psychology major to a minimum.

That said, psychology is a field of endless depth and riches, and there will be plenty to keep you challenged if you want to be challenged. Even mathematics and statistics can play a big role in psychology as in psychological assessment/measurement and in mathematical models of cognition (see, for instance, the groundbreaking work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman). Similarly, psychology in the form of neuroscience requires a lot of biology and can also require computer science.

Some majors have what are called “major killers,” in other words, courses designed to weed out students who don’t measure up (computer science and electrical engineering are notorious for having such courses because there is such a demand for majors in these fields). Psychology typically doesn’t have such “major killer” courses.

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Course requirements for a psychology major include an introductory course or two that give an overview of the field, and then specific courses covering a range of areas such as cognition, perception, personality theory, abnormal psychology, social psychology, psychological testing, animal learning and behavior, neuropsychology, and counseling. A research methods and statistics course are also required, though beyond that the mathematics requirement tends to be minimal.

Many of the courses that psychology majors take will either have a laboratory component or a separate lab course. These can have human subjects (as in a cognition course testing memory) or animal subjects (as in a animal learning course training rats in an operant conditioning chamber). Taking such lab courses will be especially encouraged if you are thinking of going on to graduate school in psychology.

Advanced psychology majors may also be expected to engage in original research with a professor/mentor, working at on-campus laboratories or research facilities, as well as in the field. In that case, they will work closely with faculty, laboratory support staff, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows as they explore areas in psychology that interest them.

Many colleges and universities require of their psychology majors a senior capstone project consisting of original research and presented at some meeting or conference via a poster, workshop, or other presentation.

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Once you’ve declared your major in psychology, you will likely be required to complete a set of core courses in a number of related subject areas. While your concentration will give you a chance to choose from a wide range of highly-specialized psychology electives, there are several common courses that most psychology majors will be required to take, including:

  • Developmental Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Ethics in Psychology
  • Theories of Behaviorism
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Forensics Psychology
  • Research Methodologies in Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Statistics

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Your “concentration” refers to a specific area of focus within your major. Many undergraduates will decide their concentrations once they get more familiar with the field of study, but in some cases, whether a school has the concentration you want can be a determining factor for chosing a school. A niche field like forensic psychology simply isn’t offered at every college. Therfore, giving some thought to what concentrations excite you the most can help you choose the right college for your psycholgoy degree. According to The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the following are among the most popular psychology concentrations:

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Community Psychology
  • Counseling Psychology
  • School Psychology
  • Educational Psychology
  • Environmental Psychology
  • Family Psychology
  • Applied Psychology
  • Forensic Psychology
  • Psychopharmacology

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Truth be told, simply having a bachelor’s degree in psychology doesn’t offer you a lot of career options as a psychologist. Usually, additional graduate work or certifications are needed. Unlike engineering, where you can call yourself an “engineer” upon getting your bachelor’s degree in engineering, people tend to call themselves psychologists only when they have additional training beyond the bachelor’s level.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists seven types of professional psychologists:

  1. clinical psychologists,
  2. counseling psychologists,
  3. developmental psychologists,
  4. forensic psychologists,
  5. industrial-organizational psychologists
  6. rehabilitation psychologists, and
  7. school psychologists.

Psychology majors have a lot of career options. You’ll need to earn a doctoral degree in order to practice as a clinical psychologist, as well as a medical degree to become a practicing psychiatrist. A master’s degree can help you hone in on an area of concentration such as education, forensics, or mental health counseling. However, opportunities also abound in a wide range of work settings for undergraduates with an educational background in psychology. Depending on your degree level, a psychology major can lead to a wide range of career opportunities, including these top jobs:

On the last point, applied behavioral analysis (ABA) has become very important with the increase of people on the autism spectrum and their need for special one-on-one training (for which there are not enough psychologists with advanced degrees). Any training and certification in ABA as a psychology major is likely to do you well.

Bottom line: If you are looking to work in the field of psychology with only a bachelor’s degree, you need to have a clear job objective in mind while pursuing your psychology major and you need to acquire the skills (and perhaps certifications) needed to get that job on graduation.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Research Universities, Liberal Arts Colleges, Online Colleges

If you want to major in psychology and get a bachelor’s degree in that field, you need to decide not only which school to attend but also what type of school to attend. The best school for you to major in psychology will depend on the type of school that’s best for you. When it comes to the type of school for pursuing a psychology major, you have three broad choices:

Research universities are schools whose faculty are active in research and publishing. Such institutions offer a wide array of doctoral programs, especially in the sciences. They tend to be big, often with tens of thousands of students.

Is a big high-powered research environment the place for you? In deciding on where to do your psychology major as an undergraduate, ask yourself what sort of environment will best help you to be happy and excel.

Are you good with being a face in a crowd, especially for some of the general introductory psychology classes that you’ll be taking, where you might be one among several hundred students? Are you okay with being a little fish in a big pond?

If you are serious about studying psychology and think you’ll eventually want to get a graduate degree in psychology, then a research university is probably the place for you. If you excel as an undergraduate at a research university, you’ll be able to take graduate courses your junior and senior years, and you may be invited to do research with some of your professors.

A research university can thus be a great springboard if you aspire to be a world-class player in the field of psychology.

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But perhaps your interest in psychology isn’t overwhelming. Perhaps you are thinking of psychology more as a stepping stone to other things that interest you, such as a career in law or education. And perhaps you want a more intimate campus.

In that case, a liberal arts college may be just what the doctor ordered. The best liberal arts colleges offer an excellent undergraduate education. In fact, students who do well at a top liberal arts college typically have no problem getting into and thriving at a top research university if upon completing their bachelor’s they decide to go on for further study.

The best liberal arts colleges offer a broad range of subjects for students to study. They typically provide smaller class sizes, more direct engagement with professors, and, most importantly, the opportunity to sample a wide range of subject areas on the way to a bachelor’s degree. Liberal arts colleges stress not only going deep in one’s major but also going broad.

Here’s another reason you might appreciate the breadth of a liberal arts education: about 80 percent of undergraduate students end up changing majors while in college and 60 percent of college grads would change majors if they had to do it again. Liberal arts colleges keep you from getting too narrowly focused.

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The verdict is in: other things being equal, a campus-based college experience is preferable to a purely online college experience. Indeed, nothing beats direct personal contact with faculty and fellow students. Body language, facial cues, voice intonation and a host of other factors like this get lost in going from “real reality” to “virtual reality.” These factors enhance the educational process and get lost in online education.

There was a key caveat in the previous paragraph: other things being equal. As it is, other things are rarely equal. You may be a second career student with a family to take care of and no way to juggle these obligations with a commute to a local campus. Online education may then be your only option.

Or it may be that you thrive on independence and solitude, working at your own pace and schedule, viewing video lectures and digital materials at your convenience. Online education gives you unmatched flexibility to pursue your education on your terms.

Life is a matter of tradeoffs. Pursuing a psychology major online will mean missing out on the benefits of campus life. Such benefits include everything from having housing and meals provided on campus to in-person office hours and counseling services. But where a campus-based education is not an option, an online education may be quite doable.

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If you think a research university may be a better fit for you, see our ranking of the best liberal arts colleges for a bachelor’s in psychology.

Best Research Universities for Psychology Degree Programs
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Ranking: Best Research Universities for Psychology Bachelor’s Degree Programs

  1. #1

    Harvard University

    Cambridge , MA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $56K

    Acceptance

    5%

    Graduation

    98%

    Student body

    25K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1515/34

    Harvard University Psychology Major Tracks

    • General Psychology
    • Cognitive Neuroscience and Evolutionary Psychology
    • Cognitive Science

    Source

  2. #2

    Stanford University

    Stanford , CA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $56K

    Acceptance

    5%

    Graduation

    95%

    Student body

    15K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1505/33

    Stanford University Psychology Major Concentrations

    • Cognitive Science
    • Early Childhood Cognition Learning and Development
    • Health Psychology
    • Judgment and Decision-Making
    • Mind, Culture, and Society
    • Neuroscience

    Source

  3. #3

    Yale University

    New Haven , CT
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $60K

    Acceptance

    7%

    Graduation

    96%

    Student body

    16K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1515/34

    Yale University Psychology Major Tracks

    • Psychology
    • Neuroscience

    Source

  4. #4

    University of Pennsylvania

    Philadelphia , PA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $62K

    Acceptance

    9%

    Graduation

    96%

    Student body

    28K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1505/34

    University of Pennsylvania Psychology Major

    • Psychology Major and Minor

    Source

  5. #5

    Columbia University

    New York , NY
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $64K

    Acceptance

    7%

    Graduation

    96%

    Student body

    28K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1505/34

  6. #6

    University of Michigan

    Ann Arbor , MI
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $17K

    Acceptance

    26%

    Graduation

    93%

    Student body

    45K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1435/32

    University of Michigan Psychology Majors

    • Psychology
    • Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience (BCN)

    Source

  7. #7

    Princeton University

    Princeton , NJ
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $56K

    Acceptance

    6%

    Graduation

    98%

    Student body

    7K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1515/34

    Princeton University Psychology Major Concentrations

    • Neuroscience
    • Cognitive Science
    • Applications of Computing
    • Gender and Sexuality Studies
    • Language and Culture
    • Linguistics

    Source

  8. #8

    University of Chicago

    Chicago , IL
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $62K

    Acceptance

    7%

    Graduation

    96%

    Student body

    13K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1535/34

  9. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    17%

    Graduation

    92%

    Student body

    43K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1430/33

    University of California, Berkeley Psychology Major Concentrations

    • Behavioral and Systems Neuroscience
    • Clinical Science
    • Cognition
    • Cognitive Neuroscience
    • Developmental
    • Social-Personality Psychology

    Source

  10. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $56K

    Acceptance

    7%

    Graduation

    96%

    Student body

    14K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1540/35

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology Psychology Majors

    • Brain and Cognitive Sciences
    • Computation and Cognition

    Source

  11. #11

    Duke University

    Durham , NC
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $60K

    Acceptance

    8%

    Graduation

    96%

    Student body

    15K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1525/34

    Duke University Psychology Majors

    • Psychology
    • Neuroscience

    Source

  12. #12

    New York University

    New York , NY
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $57K

    Acceptance

    21%

    Graduation

    88%

    Student body

    49K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1440/32

  13. #13

    Cornell University

    Ithaca , NY
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $61K

    Acceptance

    11%

    Graduation

    95%

    Student body

    26K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1480/33

    Cornell University Psychology Major Fields of Study

    • Development
    • Cognition
    • Social and Personality
    • Neuroscience

    Source

  14. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $13K

    Acceptance

    14%

    Graduation

    91%

    Student body

    45K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1415/32

    What is University of California, Los Angeles known for?

    University of California, Los Angeles’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    Most Influential Alumni

    University of California, Los Angeles Psychology Majors

    • BA Psychology
    • BS Cognitive Science
    • BS Psychobiology

    Source

  15. #15

    Johns Hopkins University

    Baltimore , MD
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $59K

    Acceptance

    11%

    Graduation

    94%

    Student body

    26K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1510/34

    Johns Hopkins University Psychology Major

    • Psychology

    Source

  16. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $62K

    Acceptance

    16%

    Graduation

    92%

    Student body

    40K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1445/32

    University of Southern California Psychology Major

    • Psychology

    Source

  17. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $59K

    Acceptance

    16%

    Graduation

    94%

    Student body

    13K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1520/34

    Washington University in St. Louis Psychology Majors

    • Psychological and Brain Sciences
    • Cognitive Neuroscience

    Concentrations:

    • Cognition in Children
    • Cognitive Neuroscience
    • Reading Language and Language Acquisition
    • Lifespan Development
    • Experimental Psychopathology
    • Personality and Individual Differences

    Source

    Washington University in St. Louis’s Online Degrees

    BS in Integrated Studies
    Degree Concentrations
    • Humanities
    • Social Science
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
  18. #18

    Northwestern University

    Evanston , IL
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $61K

    Acceptance

    9%

    Graduation

    95%

    Student body

    19K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1495/34

    Northwestern University Psychology Major

    • Psychology major or minor

    Source

  19. #19

    Brown University

    Providence , RI
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $62K

    Acceptance

    8%

    Graduation

    95%

    Student body

    10K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1505/34

  20. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $9K

    Acceptance

    25%

    Graduation

    91%

    Student body

    25K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1405/30

    What is University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill known for?

    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    Most Influential Alumni

    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Psychology Majors

    • BA Psychology
    • BS Psychology
    • BS Neuroscience

    Source

  21. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $11K

    Acceptance

    32%

    Graduation

    88%

    Student body

    44K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1355/30

    University of Texas at Austin Psychology Major Areas of Study

    • Behavioral Neuroscience
    • Clinical Psychology
    • Cognition, Brain, and Behavior
    • Developmental Psychology
    • Individual Differences and Evolutionary Psychology
    • Perception, Brain, and Behavior
    • Social and Personality

    Source

  22. #23

    Carnegie Mellon University

    Pittsburgh , PA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $59K

    Acceptance

    17%

    Graduation

    93%

    Student body

    17K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1510/34

    Carnegie Mellon University Psychology Majors

    • Cognitive Psychology (including Cognitive Neuroscience)
    • Developmental Psychology
    • Social / Personality / Health Psychology

    Source

Go to all Research Universities for Psychology programs

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