Career Options with the Undergraduate Degree
Unlike engineering, nursing, or computer science degrees, a bachelor's degree in psychology does not always provide preparation for a specific career. However, certain courses develop skills that prospective employers need and reward, such as an understanding of behavior, research design and evaluation, interpretation of statistics, scientific writing, computer programming, behavior modification techniques and a sensitivity concerning inter-personal relations and communications. A good understanding of human behavior is an asset in many different careers.
Participating in internships can lead to jobs within the agency in which you are working, or at least to good references regarding your ability and attitude. Research activities such as empirical independent studies can increase your desirability for research-oriented jobs. Extra-curricular activities such as community service may also be important.
Besides positions in mental hospitals and similar institutions, there are many jobs that require a knowledge of psychology, such as:
- Community Relations Officer (working for business or government promoting good relations with community)
- Affirmative Action Officer
- Recreational Worker
- Urban Planning Officer
- Advertising Copywriter (researches audience and media, writes test of advertisements)
- Media Buyer
- Health Educator
- Vocational Rehabilitation
- Psychiatric Assistant
- Director of Volunteer Services
- Public Statistician (collects and interprets data on health and disease)
- Probation and Parole Officer
- Newspaper Reporter (specializing in articles about psychology and/or social science)
- Technical Writer
- Sales Representative (major publishers of psychology books often seek out undergraduates with psychology majors)
- Opinion Survey Researcher
- Lab Assistant
- Scientific Instrument Salesperson
There are other alternatives. One possibility is to find work at a research institute, a university or a hospital with a researcher who is funded by a national granting agency. The money available for research has decreased over recent years, but if you read the Education Section of the "Week in Review" in The New York Times, or the American Psychological Association (APA) Monitor, you will sometimes see advertisements for research assistants, etc. These jobs are not just in the New York metropolitan area.
The bottom line? The psychology major provides knowledge and develops skills that are relevant to good performance in a great many different careers. Think of the kind of work that you are most interested in devoting yourself to, and then think of how to present yourself and your strengths to prospective employers.
Graduate degrees in psychology include the M.A., M.S., Ph.D., and Psy.D. Most master's programs are of a general experimental nature and are intended to prepare the student for further graduate study toward the Ph.D. Some master's programs are specialized and intended to prepare the student to work in industry, agencies, or schools on completion. The master's degree in school psychology would be an example.
Master's counseling programs (usually not considered a psychology degree) prepare the student to become a counselor at completion. The Ph.D. in psychology is a research oriented degree and would be the most flexible in terms of job choices at completion. Research, college teaching, private practice, and industrial psychology are among the possibilities. Ph.D. degrees are usually in experimental, counseling, or clinical psychology with experimental emphases including many areas such as social, learning, physiological, perception, cognition, and developmental psychology.
APA approved counseling or clinical Ph.D. programs usually lead to being licensed as a professional psychologist after passing a national licensing examination. The Psy.D. degree is designed to prepare students to work as professional psychologists in private practice. The programs are more experiential and less research oriented. APA approved Psy.D. programs also lead to eligibility for licensure.
Career Options with the Graduate Degree
These people have traditionally confined their work to laboratory settings where conditions can be carefully identified, defined, and controlled. They study topics such as learning, perception, memory, motivation, and animal behavior. A large majority of these people are employed in university settings. However, since many of these people have training in research methods and statistical techniques (in some sense, more than the other areas described here), several of these people find employment in research settings (e.g., IBM or Bell Labs) or industrial settings (e.g., Kodak, Xerox). A tiny subfield within this area is mathematical psychology.
Industrial and Organizational Psychologists
These people are concerned with problems and issues relating to the behavior of people in organizations. These psychologists act as researchers and practitioners. Their concerns include developing selection and placement programs, improving individual motivation and, job and management procedures. They also promote overall organizational and communication objectives (it's more interesting than this sounds!). They are usually employed in educational settings, private industries, government agencies, and private consulting firms.
They study both relatively enduring characteristics of people and temporary dispositions. Topics of study include introversion, need achievement, and fixations. These people are typically employed in universities, colleges and high schools.
They investigate the influence of cultural and social factors on behavior. Some areas of interest include social learning, social perception, motivation, attitude formation, mass media effects, group dynamics, aggression and leadership. These people are usually employed in university and college settings. Again, however, an interesting "new field" involves working on a degree in psychology and law - and the combination of social psychology and law would open career opportunities within the legal community, both in terms of practicing law and in consulting work (i.e., advising people in the legal field about issues that have psychological relevance).
They study the growth and psychological changes of humans and animals from the prenatal stages of development to adulthood and old age. Both observational and experimental methods are used to address questions about cognition, memory, aging, language acquisition, sex role development, socialization, and learning (to name a few topics). People within this area work in university and college settings as well as in public schools, hospitals, and clinics.
These deal in the diagnosis and treatment of psychological disorders. Besides being professional practitioners, clinicians may also teach and conduct research in various settings such as universities, hospitals, schools, day care centers and community health centers. Although the employment outlook for clinicians looks relatively good, admission into clinical doctoral programs is very competitive. A new specialty within this field is behavioral medicine, (read the American Psychological Association Monitor and note the "new" jobs opening in the area.)
These psychologists are closely related to the clinical description. Counseling psychologists, however, are more oriented toward lifespan issues such as career development, marital therapy and family counseling. These psychologists provide assessment of and counseling for personal, career, and educational problems, and they also may conduct research on normal personality and career development. Many of these people work in educational settings. Admission to graduate school is competitive!
These people study the basic processes involved in human learning, particularly within the framework of education. Their research focuses on the theory and development of psychological tests, creativity, retardation, reading and maturation.
Because gerontology is an expanding field, employment opportunities are still developing. Whether you are interested in direct services such as counseling, research, and administration, or in education and training, a significant need exists across various settings for persons with expertise in all aspects of aging, especially in light of the rapid aging of the world's population.
This area can be a good career choice for someone interested in optimizing the relationship between people and technology, for in the field of human factors the demand is greater than the supply. Specialists in this multidisciplinary area are concerned with discovering and applying information about human capabilities to the design of tools, machines, jobs, and environments for safe and effective human use.
They study the relationship between people and their "social-psychological milieu." They investigate topics like the effects of pollution and crowding on human behavior. These people also study the impact of settings such as hospitals, parks, housing developments, and work environments on behavior. This field appears to be rapidly expanding.