Why Major in Psychology?

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Why should I get a major or minor in Psychology?

Overview of the Psychology Degree:  What it Does, What you Learn, What you can Do
Psychology as a Liberal Arts Degree
Psychology as a Social Science Degree
Coursework and Individual Preparation
Designing a Curriculum
Job Opportunities
Psychology Majors have: 
Questions? Additional Resources

Overview of the Psychology Degree

The Psychology Major is designed to provide a comprehensive undergraduate education in this field, leading to the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree. The study of Psychology involves a search for knowledge about human and animal behavior as well as the application of this knowledge for the promotion of human welfare. The subject matter of Psychology includes how humans and other organisms perceive, learn, think, develop, and relate to one another at the social level. Students interested in learning about these processes and/or the application of this knowledge to the treatment of the various mental and emotional problems that can develop, should consider majoring in Psychology.

 Students majoring in Psychology receive a broad exposure to developmental, social, cognitive, clinical and physiological areas of Psychology, as well as specific training in research methodology and statistics. Original student research is also fostered and encouraged during the undergraduate experience. Our program meets a wide variety of student needs and interests. It provides an excellent foundation for students who plan graduate and continued professional training in any area of Psychology. The program also provides expertise in psychological science as a background for entry into a variety of professions where an understanding of fundamental psychological phenomena is important. Students find that a major or minor in psychology can provide knowledge and skills that are useful for advanced careers in fields such as business, nursing, medicine, law, social work, counseling, dentistry, elementary and secondary education, and biology.

The best paying and most intensive psychology-related work is available only to persons with graduate degrees. Nonetheless, many psychology majors with B.A. degrees do find satisfying employment within or outside the field of psychology. In terms of employability the bachelor's degree in psychology functions like, and is probably as marketable as, any other liberal arts degree.

 The psychology major has been designed so that, upon completion of the requirements for the major, students will have:

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  • familiarity with a variety of content areas in psychology
  • familiarity with methodological issues and tools of the discipline
  • skills in designing and conducting research and in analyzing and interpreting data
  • familiarity with the historical evolution of major perspectives and ideas in the discipline
  • skills in reading and comprehending psychological literature
  • skills in thinking critically about ideas in psychology
  • skills in speaking and writing with which to communicate about ideas in the discipline
  • awareness of ethical issues in psychology and guidelines for ethical conduct
  • familiarity with issues of diversity (e.g., culture, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status) in psychological theory, research, and practice
  • awareness of post-baccalaureate opportunities for psychology majors

Each course in the psychology department curriculum is designed to meet one or more of these objectives.

Coursework and Individual Preparation

Although career counseling is a vitally important step in discovering interests and opportunities, a careful selection of courses is equally important. At least some of the classes you choose, whether for core requirements, a psychology major, or electives, should be relevant for work after graduation. If possible, choose some classes which reflect your personal interests and career goals, and balance them with courses in the liberal arts. Take advantage of the wide variety of courses offered. Be assured that a solid degree in psychology will serve you well, but also be aware that many employers respect a college record which gives evidence of a wide range of interests and abilities. You may find it helpful to talk to upperclass students, graduates, or faculty members to get opinions on course selection.

 Make an effort to get personally acquainted with some professors, both here and at other institutions. Developing a professional network (a collection of people in the field whom you know and who know you) can be a great asset in finding entry-level positions and apprenticeships, assistantships, and in connecting with other professionals. Student memberships with organizations like the American Psychological Association (APA), the American Psychological Society (APS), and the Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS) are beneficial for additional involvement with the field of psychology. (Information on these organizations is available on the Psychology Links Page)

Job Opportunities

Psychology as a Social Science Degree

Many graduates look for work specifically in psychology. When you look for employment, keep in mind the following specific skills that you may bring to your work as a result of your psychology major:

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  • research skills which can be applied in a wide variety of settings
  • quantitative reasoning skills (i.e. knowing how to make judgments with statistics)
  • assessment skills
  • increased knowledge of self and others
  • group leadership skills
  • critical thinking about psychological issues
  • appreciation for diversity
  • computer and communication skills
  • specific lab skills
  • others, depending on your unique experiences

Psychology as a Liberal Arts Degree

As a wide ranging liberal arts degree, psychology prepares you to work in a large variety of fields that require critical thinking, problem solving, and general human relations skills. Many employers in business, for example, look for general liberal arts graduates. Keep in mind that many jobs and careers do not fit into the disciplinary or professional categories that we use in college. You have the opportunity to use your liberal arts background in careers as diverse as your imagination allows.

Designing a Curriculum

It is difficult to suggest a typical four-year program in psychology, because each student's program is specifically tailored to his or her needs and interest. The major lends itself easily to specialization. Students considering graduate work in psychology or professional careers in law, medicine, business, or human engineering will find the training received in any of these options to be quite valuable. The Psychology curriculum provides a foundation of skills and knowledge for careers both outside and inside Psychology. Since most jobs require a well-developed sense of how people function, a degree in Psychology is often a desired background for a variety of different fields, e.g., retail management, banking, social services, employment interviewing and counseling, probation work, market research, public relations, mental health work, and personnel management. This major also prepares students who wish to continue graduate work in Psychology or related areas, or who ultimately wish to conduct psychological research, engage in clinical or counseling professions, or teach Psychology in a university setting.

Psychologists study individual and group behavior and help people find solutions to personal, family, school, or work problems. They can be employed in academia as professors and researchers, as researchers and/or consultants in the private sector, or as counselors or clinicians.
Educational requirements: Psychologists normally need a doctorate, although school psychologists may be certified with a master's degree. Licensing is required of clinical psychologists.
 Human Service Workers work in group homes and halfway houses, correctional, mental retardation and community mental health centers, family, child and youth service agencies, and programs concerned with alcoholism, drug abuse, family violence and aging.
Educational Requirements: HS graduates perform clerical duties; college degree in human services, counseling, psychology, rehabilitation or special education is necessary for counseling, program directors, and group home managers.
 Counselors help people evaluate their interests and abilities and advise/assist them with personal, social, educational and career problems and concerns.
Educational Requirements: MA in counseling or related field usually required. BA in psychology, sociology or counseling may be accepted coupled with experience in social work or teaching.

 BUSINESS: Psychology is a highly relevant field of study that is often recommended as a major for students planning to pursue an M.B.A. degree. Graduate schools of business are primarily looking for students with a strong liberal arts background that focuses on both writing and quantitative skills. Thus an appropriate undergraduate program would emphasize a broad understanding of human nature and social behavior as well as a functional grasp of mathematical concepts.
 Personnel, Training & Labor Relations Specialists & Managers help management make effective use of employees' skills and help employees find satisfaction in their jobs and working conditions.
Educational Requirements: BA or MA in personnel administration, industrial labor relations with study or experience in business administration, education, human services, communication, and public administration.
 Securities & Financial Services Sales Reps buy and sell securities for individuals or institutions; brokers between clients and the securities exchanges. Financial service sales reps call on various businesses to solicit applications for loans and new deposit accounts for banks or savings and loan associations.
Educational Requirements: BA/BS in business administration or liberal arts with courses in accounting, economics and marketing. Also, securities sales reps must meet state licensing requirements, which generally include passing a written exam and in some cases, furnishing a personal bond.
Other Business-Related Occupations: Advertising worker, employment assistance administration, industrial psychologist, market research analyst, public relations specialist, sales rep, vocational rehabilitation counselor

 LAW: A background in psychology can be enormously useful for the study and practice of law. There are so many interconnections between law and psychology that one can hardly go wrong in terms of course selection. The most important thing to do while taking psychology courses is to think continually about the kinds of legal problems to which that information might be applicable.
Police, Detectives & Special Agents control traffic, prevent and/or investigate crimes, gather facts & collect evidence for criminal cases.
Educational Requirements: Civil service regulations govern appointments of police and detectives in practically all states. Candidates must be US citizens, 21+ years of age and able to meet rigorous physical & personal qualifications.
Other Related Occupations: criminologist

 EDUCATION: Because the field of education encompasses a number of different academic areas, psychology is one of several majors which provide a strong background for graduate work in education. For those students considering advanced work in child development, educational psychology, counseling psychology, and school psychology, a psychology major is particularly relevant. Recommended courses include those which deal with human learning and development.
Related Occupations: guidance counselor

 MEDICINE: Psychology is highly recommended as a major for premedical students interested in psychiatry or neurology and is a valuable major for any premedical student who plans to practice medicine. What specific psychology courses are best for premedical students? This is a complex question. While courses in physiological psychology may seem most relevant, courses in other areas such as cognitive processes and abnormal psychology provide information of enormous practical value for the future physician. The intended area of medical specialization will also influence the choice of courses: for example, a future pediatrician would benefit particularly from courses in developmental psychology. Courses in research methods, and independent research, also provide valuable training for students heading for medical school.
Other Related Occupations: psychiatric social worker, psychiatrist

SOME OTHER JOB OPTIONS TO CONSIDER:

  • editor
  • minister
  • occupational therapist,
  • safety engineer
  • technical writer

Skills of a Psychology Major:

  • Proficient in interpersonal communication
  • Able to evaluate personal problems and make appropriate decisions
  • Thorough understanding of human development and behavior
  • Able to interpret and clearly explain psychological research and tests

Personal Attributes of a Psychology Major:

  • Sensitive to others
  • Tactful, patient, personable and inquisitive
  • Desire to continue learning throughout life

Activities Related to a Psychology Major:

  • Do an internship
  • Serve as peer counselor
  • Work part-time or as a volunteer in a mental health agency, psychology department, senior citizen home, advertising agency, special education class, hotline, as a camp counselor...
  • Develop promotional materials
  • Participate in community organizations or student council
  • Read psychology-related publications
  • Value integrity and service to others

The following statement, taken from Paul Woods' book The Psychology Major (APA, 1979) neatly and concisely conveys the main ideas regarding employment for B.A. Psychology majors:

"Most of the readers of the present book are, for the time being at least, primarily concerned with employment prospects at the baccalaureate level. Those graduating from college with majors in psychology are similar to and different from all other college graduates. They are just as well-qualified and should be as competitive and successful in the general job market as many other liberal arts graduates. But those aspects of their training that deal with the subject matter and methodology of psychology (including experimental methodology and statistics and an appreciation of the relatively unique ways psychologists view human behavior) give them a distinct advantage over other graduates in a variety of job situations. At this level of education we cannot talk about jobs for psychologists; those graduates looking for a job should not expect to find "psychology major" listed in the qualifications or job description. A student graduating as a psychology major cannot expect to be employed as a psychologist any more than a student graduating from a prelaw program, say, can expect to be employed as a lawyer. Yet the psychology major is generally prepared for a wide variety of roles and is specifically prepared to fill many of them better and more competently than people who have majored in other fields."

Preparing for Graduate Work in Psychology

For students considering a career in research and teaching in psychology, or for students with other goals who wish to pursue a broader and more rigorous academic program in psychology, it is advisable to combine advanced courses in several sub-areas of psychology and related fields, with a research focus in one area of special interest.
Other suggestions for students wishing to pursue an intensive program in psychology:

  • Research experience, particularly in the junior and senior year, is highly desirable for anyone considering graduate work in psychology. For those interested in clinical psychology, counseling psychology, etc., some type of paraprofessional experience is also recommended.
  • Courses in statistics, mathematics, and computer sciences are becoming increasingly important and helpful for graduate work.
  • Advanced courses in fields related to psychology (e.g., linguistics, anthropology, biology, physiology, etc.) will further strengthen students' programs.

A Quote:

"Majoring in psychology is not for everyone. It does not appeal to those who seek quick and simple answers to complex problems, nor to those who want the "approved solution" to the questions of why humans act, think and feel as they do. But if you are someone who enjoys mysteries, gets excited by challenging puzzles, is curious about human nature, intrigued by observing animal behavior, thinks about the HOW and WHY of YOU, then you'll find psychology a rewarding and even empowering major.
There is no field of knowledge with such an enormous breadth of interest as can be found in psychology -- from the micro analysis of the functioning of single nerve cells to the macro functioning of urban communities, from invertebrate reflex behavior, to the perception of a newborn child, to the prejudice of a group, to the decision-making process of national governments. We have it all. While many psychologists study fundamental processes of human development, brain functioning, learning, motivation, emotion, memory, judgment, language, personality, mental disorders, and social interactions -- for the sheer joy of understanding them better -- others seek to apply psychological knowledge to improve the quality of our lives."
Dr. Philip G. Zimbardo

Questions? Click here.

Or check out these other resources:

Sternberg, R.J. (Ed.) (1997) Careers paths in psychology: Where your degree can take you. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.