How to Major in Psychology
Psychology is the study of the mind. 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, there are also numerous other career paths for students who major in psychology at the undergraduate level. Majoring in psychology can provide a starting point for a wide range of careers in school counseling, substance abuse treatment, special education, and much more.
If you’re ready to earn your degree at one of the most prestigious schools in the world, get started with a look at the Most Influential Schools in Psychology.
Or read on to find out what you can expect as a ssychology major.
5 Reasons to Major in Psychology
1.Psychology majors have a lot of career options.
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.
2.Psychology majors have strong earning power.
Psychology is a specialized profession. Advanced degrees and other credentials will have a direct impact on how much you can earn. For those at the top of the field, these earnings are well above the average for all professions. For instance, the Bureau of Labor of Statistics 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 for all jobs that falls just under $40,000 per year.
3.Psychology majors learn how to conduct research.
Research skills are critical in both work and life. As a psychology major, you’ll learn how to gather data, verify sources, and engage the scientific process. Whether your psychology degree leads to a career in education, mental health, business, law enforcement or elsewhere, knowing how to locate information, gather data, and decipher facts from fiction are invaluable skills.
4.Psychology majors have a strong understanding of themselves and others.
The focus of your psychology major is the human mind—how it works, how it causes us to behave, and what can happen when normal function is disrupted. You’ll gain a stronger understanding of both normal cognitive function and the array of mental health issues and disorders that can afflict the mind. You’ll also learn and practice many of the clinical approaches used to treat and care for individuals experiencing mental health distress or disorder.
5.Psychology majors are influential.
The human mind remains one of the great unlocked mysteries in medical science. We continue to break new ground in our understanding of the mind and the treatment of mental health disorders. This makes the work of today’s leading psychology experts extremely important in a multitude of fields. 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.
Find out who the Most Influential People are in Psychology today!
What Kinds of Psychology Degrees Are There?
Professional opportunities in the psychology profession are directly connected to your academic credentials. Your career goals should determine how far you go in your psychology education. An undergraduate degree can provide you with a grounding that can apply in an array of work settings, but you would only be able to practice psychology in a clinical setting with the acquisition of an advanced degree, as well as proper licensing.
- Associate’s in Psychology: This two-year degree can provide you with an introductory education in foundational areas of psychology such as cognitive behaviorism, development theories, and criminology. Your associate’s degree in psychology would qualify you to work as a family advocate, crisis intervention counselor, or an administrative assistant in a mental healthcare setting. Your associate’s degree could also be an affordable way to get a head-start before transferring to a four-year program.
- Bachelor’s in Psychology: 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.
- Master’s in Psychology: A master’s degree in psychology can typically be earned over a period of two years. This advanced degree can significantly improve your access to leadership roles and areas of specialization both within and beyond the field of psychology. You may combine your psychology masters with a focus on childhood education in order to work as a school counselor; or with a study of organizational behavior in order to work as a human resources manager; or you could study psychology alongside demographic studies and become a market researcher.
- Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)/PhD in Psychology: In order to conduct clinical research or become a practicing clinical psychologist, you will need to earn this terminal degree. Typically a four to eight year engagement, you have two primary options at the doctoral level. The PhD in Psychology is essentially a research degree and will qualify you both to lead research and teach at the postsecondary level. If you wish to become a practicing psychologist in a clinical setting, you would need to earn your Doctor of Psychology (PsyD).
*Note: Many, but not all, degree programs offer the choice between Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees. Likewise, many, but not all, advanced degree programs offer a choice between Master of Arts, and Master of Science degrees. In most cases, the primary difference is the diversity of course offerings. “Science” degree courses will focus almost entirely on the major discipline, with a deep dive into a specific concentration, including laboratory, clinical or practicum experience. An “Arts” degree will provide a more well-rounded curriculum which includes both core/concentration courses and a selection of humanities and electives. The type of degree you choose will depend both on your school’s offerings and your career/educational goals. Moreover, there are sometimes numerous variations in the way that colleges name and categorize majors. The degree types identified here above are some of the common naming variations, but may not be all-encompassing.
How Do I Become a Licensed Psychologist?
To become a practicing clinical psychologist, you must earn your Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) from a doctoral program accredited by the APA Commission on Accreditation (APA-CoA), or alternately, an ASPPB- or National Register-designated doctoral program. You would also need to sit for and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) in your state. Qualifying to sit for this examination requires you to have accrued a set number of clinical and/or supervised field hours. The number of required hours may differ from state to state.
What’s the Difference Between a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist?
A psychologist is a Doctor of Psychology, specializing in mental health treatment. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor with a concentration in the treatment of mental health. Becoming a psychiatrist requires the same extensive course of education pursued by medical doctors. This course of education will typically take up to 10-11 years for completion, including medical school, several years of clinical medical training, and several additional years of clinical mental health training.
What Are Some Popular Psychology Concentrations?
Your “concentration” refers to a specific area of focus within your major. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) provides a complete listing of college degree programs and concentrations (Classification for Instructional Programs), as sourced from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). According to IPEDS, 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
What Courses Will I Take as a Psychology Major?
Your concentration will determine many of the courses you’ll take as a psychology major. Likewise, you will be required to take a number of requisite intro and life sciences courses. However, you will also have the freedom to select an array of courses centered around the area where you hope to apply your psychology education, whether this is an education, law enforcement, or organizational setting.
Common psychology courses include:
- Developmental Psychology
- Cognitive Psychology
- Ethics in Psychology
- Theories of Behaviorism
- Abnormal Psychology
- Forensics Psychology
- Research Methodologies in Psychology
- Clinical Psychology
What Can I Do With a Major in Psychology?
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:
- Clinical, Counseling and School Psychologists
- Psychology Teachers, Postsecondary
- Marriage and Family Therapists
- Psychiatric Technicians and Aides
- Mental Health Counselors
- Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors
Curious how far you could go with a major in psychology? Start with a look at the top influencers in the field today!***
Now that you know how to major in psychology, check out The Most Influential Schools in Psychology! and get started on your path to a Psychology degree.