- Defending the major: Exploiting the workforce advantage of the psychology degree
- About the author
- What Can You Do With a Psychology Degree?
- So, what can you do with a psychology degree?
- Typical psychology careers
- Psychology careers in healthcare and therapy
- Psychology careers in education
- Psychology careers in research
- Less typical careers with a psychology degree
Defending the major: Exploiting the workforce advantage of the psychology degree
The best defense of the psychology major is a good offense. By Jane S.
Although the vast majority of students who declare majors in psychology claim that they aspire to continue their education in graduate school, the reality is that most psychology graduates will instead enter the workforce.
The Center for Workforce Studies of the American Psychological Association estimates that approximately 73 percent of psychology majors will end up using the knowledge and skills they acquired in some kind of workforce job after graduation (Lin & Stamm, 2018).
Sometimes students know from the outset of their major that a degree in psychology provides just the right background to qualify them for a desirable workforce position.
At other times a workforce position may serve as “Plan B” for those who ( me) applied to graduate school and don’t manage to get accepted the first time out.
Regardless of the motive for pursuing a psychology-related workforce position, psychology majors should be especially well prepared for any careers that deal with data or with people. It seems to me that that description applies to nearly any career choice.
That high percentage of psychology majors successfully entering the workforce contrasts dramatically with the commonly held misconception that you “can’t get a job with a psychology degree.
” One of the curses psychology majors must endure is the chronic excessive concern of friends and relatives who seem compelled to chide their choice of the major (Appleby, 2016).
A recent presidential candidate caused a stir by suggesting that job prospects were so bad for psychology majors that their inevitable destination would be the fast food industry. Such observations fuel continuous teasing, such as “The dean should give out a hairnet with each psychology diploma.”
The best defense of the major is a good offense. For years I have argued that the psychology degree is not only not a liability in job seeking, but it actually confers a workforce advantage.
In well-designed undergraduate programs, students should become extremely competitive with other jobseekers because of the following crucial characteristics that serve as the backbone of the undergraduate psychology degree:
- Understanding and predicting individual and group behavior.
- Interpreting and using data.
- Evaluating the legitimacy of behavioral claims.
- Designing strategies to solve human problems.
- Communicating precisely in a variety of formats.
In addition, psychology projects that students complete in the course of their major contribute substantially to the development of a sound work ethic that will appeal to prospective employers:
- Doing the right things for the right reasons.
- Designing and executing projects with limited information or experience.
- Managing difficult situations and high stress environments.
- Exhibiting persistence in challenging circumstances.
- Adapting to change.
Specific courses students take to complete the psychology major also provide support for making good workplace decisions. Just a few exemplars include the following:
- Showing insight into problematic behaviors that affect the workplace (Abnormal Psychology).
- Applying how memory works or fails to work (Memory).
- Navigating informal and formal organizational channels (Social Psychology).
- Motivating optimal performance (Learning).
- Boosting creativity to solve problems (Cognition).
- Designing work stations to promote efficiency and health (Sensation and Perception).
- Predicting how aging can influence work quality (Life Span Development).
- Linking quality of healthy lifestyle to work performance (Health Psychology).
What can you do to overcome the biases that some individuals, including prospective employers, may profess about the value of the psychology degree that could limit your opportunities?
- Seize the narrative. Do not let others define the choices you have made as limiting your future. There are just too many great examples of successful workforce psychology to let those misconceptions stand. Take advantage of any teachable moment that presents itself to correct misconceptions about what psychology majors can actually do.
- Develop a workforce lens. Whether or not your professors provide this exercise, think about how your courses can build your workforce skills. Every psychology class has workforce implications. Think about how what you are learning could make you a top-notch employee.
- Own the skill sets. Imagine how impressive you can be in future job interviews if you can provide an articulate answer to the question, “What value will you add to our company if we hire you?” At the end of each course, state what new skills you now can deploy along with examples that provide evidence of the ability. With some practice, you should be ready to make a most persuasive bid for a workforce position. Don’t just enter the workforce; conquer it.
Appleby, D. (March 21, 2016). How to maximize the blessings and minimize the curses of being a psychology major. Psychology Learning Curve: Where Psychology and Education Connect. https://psychlearningcurve.org/how-to-maximize-the-blessings-and-minimize-the-curses-of-being-a-psychology-major/.
Lin, L., & Stamm, K. (June 4, 2018). Graduating with a degree in psychology? Check out what the data say about careers, workforce demographics, salaries and more! Psychology Learning Curve: Where Psychology and Education Connect. APA Center for Workforce Studies, American Psychological Association, Washington, D.C. https://psychlearningcurve.org/data-on-psychology-workforce/.
About the author
Jane S. Halonen is a professor of psychology and former dean of arts and sciences at the University of West Florida (Pensacola, Florida).
She has dedicated her academic career to the scholarship of teaching and learning.
Her academic interests include improving student learning, assessing undergraduate programs, helping good departments become great ones and helping the public understand the discipline of psychology.
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What Can You Do With a Psychology Degree?
Psychology is the study of the human mind and behavior, offering the chance to explore unanswered questions about the brain, such as how it functions under stress, how it learns language, how it remembers facts or how mental illness can affect the way it works. During your psychology degree you can choose to specialize in specific areas of psychology such as health, clinical, educational, research, occupational, counseling, neuro, sport and exercise, and forensic.
For advice on finding a graduate job, download our free guide on how to find a job after university.
So, what can you do with a psychology degree?
There are many different options available to psychology degree holders, depending on your specializations and interests, such as:
Although many roles will be available to you with an undergraduate degree, some more highly specialized roles may require further study. Of the psychology careers which don’t require further study, training is usually available on the job to ensure you continue moving forward in your career.
Read on for some insight into the types of careers open to you with an undergraduate psychology degree (BA or BSc).
Typical psychology careers
With a psychology degree, you’re well placed to pursue careers in both arts and scientific fields, depending on your personal interests. There are many options within public and private healthcare, education, mental health support, social work, therapy and counseling. These roles may be advisory, research-led, treatment-led or therapeutic.
There are also a number of less typical roles for psychology graduates, including jobs in media and other creative industries. Overviews of these typical and not-so-typical careers with a psychology degree are outlined below.
Psychology careers in healthcare and therapy
With further study and training you’ll be able to gain qualification as a chartered psychologist. Within this highly specialized role, you’ll work with people of all backgrounds, both patients and clients.
You’ll analyze behaviors, thoughts and emotions in order to better understand and advise on certain actions and/or psychological issues.
As a chartered psychologist, you’ll have the option to specialize in a number of areas, including occupational psychology, educational psychology, sport and mental health.
(Note: If you wish to become a psychiatrist – a doctor specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders – you will need to gain a medical degree.)
A psychotherapist will work with individuals, couples, groups or families, to help their clients overcome psychological issues, including emotional and relationship-related issues, stress and even addiction.
Depending on what you choose to specialize in during your degree, as well as your personal interests, you can choose to act as a psychotherapist using a number of approaches. These include cognitive behavioral methods, psychoanalytic and psychodynamic therapies, as well as art therapy, drama therapy, humanistic and integrative psychotherapy, hypno-psychotherapy and experiential therapy.
A social worker is someone who works with people who are going through difficult periods in their lives; including groups such as children or the elderly, people with disabilities and victims of crime and abuse.
The role of a social worker is to safeguard these people from harm and provide support in order to allow people to improve their situations.
Social workers may work within schools, homes, hospitals or other public agencies and will tend to specialize in working with children and families or vulnerable adults.
As a counselor you’ll be involved in helping people come to better terms with their lives and experiences through exploration of feelings and emotions. You’ll work within a confidential setting and be expected to listen attentively to your clients.
Key traits of a counselor include the ability to listen, empathize, offer respect and patience, as well as to analyze the issues at play in order to enable the client to better cope with their situation and help support them in making choices.
psychotherapy, counseling is often a form of talking therapy and can encompass areas including marriage and family, health, abuse, rehabilitation, education, grief, mental health, career guidance and pediatrics.
Psychology careers in education
Psychology graduates interested in the education sector have a number of different options.
As well as educational therapy, educational psychology and social work within education, psychology graduates may qualify as teachers, working in primary, secondary or tertiary level education.
They may instead work within social services to help support learning in the community at all ages, or within the prison sector to provide support for young offenders.
To become an educational psychologist, you will need the same qualifications as any psychologist (a master’s degree and further training). This is a role concerned with the development of young people in educational settings, with the aim of enhancing learning and dealing with social and emotional issues or learning difficulties.
To teach psychology, depending on the level you choose, you’ll need an additional teaching qualification. To enter careers in tertiary education (colleges and universities) you will ly need a further qualification, such as a master’s and/or PhD. Roles in higher education are ly to encompass both teaching and research (see below).
Psychology careers in research
Psychology careers in research may be based within research agencies, public and private organizations or in universities. University-based careers vary but tend to combine research and teaching.
Research careers within other sectors are even more wide-ranging but could mean contributing to governmental policy development or issues of importance for industry.
You could also work for a charity or other non-profit organization, perhaps conducting research to help resolve challenges such as speech impediments, brain damage, child development or the impact of legal and illegal drugs on psychological health.
Less typical careers with a psychology degree
As a psychology graduate at bachelor level, there are thousands of opportunities for you outside healthcare and educational roles if you know where to look.
This is due to the varied transferable skills you gain from your degree, as well as widespread recognition of the advantages of having psychological and analytical expertise.
In broad terms, psychology graduates can be found working in all sectors of society, including media, criminal justice and rehabilitation, advertising, business and management, sports, public agencies and the legal sector. Some less typical careers with a psychology degree are outlined below…
Media and advertising careers
It might not be an obvious choice for psychology graduates, but media careers are varied, with ample opportunities to apply the skills a psychology degree will hone.
Psychology graduates can impart valuable insights into human behavior, as well as offering the ability to analyze problems, listen attentively, give considered responses and act with empathy and reason.
Because of this, media roles within all departments including management, production, scheduling and writing are well within reach for psychology graduates.
Human resources and communications careers
Psychology is all about understanding people and how they think, making human resources and communications careers another good match. These roles, available in both the public and private sectors, encompass areas such as employee satisfaction, professional development, training, recruitment, PR, payroll and internal communications.
Business and management careers
Thanks to a keen sense of how to handle both data and people, business and management careers are another good option for psychology graduates.
Although further training and work experience are ly to be required before entering managerial roles, you could start out by pursuing careers within business consultancy, marketing, sales, advertising or business development, before working your way up the ladder.
A psychology degree may also provide a good basis for careers in IT, finance, the legal sector, government administration and market research.
‘What Can You Do With a Psychology Degree?’ is part of our ‘What Can You Do With…’ series.
We have also covered art, biology, business, communications, computer science, English, engineering, fashion, history, geography, law, marketing, mathematics, performing arts, philosophy, politics, sociology, chemistry, economics and physics.
This article was originally published in January 2015. It was last updated in October 2019.
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