This post started off as an email from a reader out there who is considering a major in psychology. She had questions about what you can do with a Bachelor’s degree in psychology, whether you need an advanced degree in psychology, and whether it would be smart to double major. I break down each question one by one, so enjoy! If you are in a similar position and have more questions for me, leave a comment!
Audio version at the bottom of this post.
Would it benefit me to have something over a traditional 4 year college education (grad school)?
If you are interested in going into the field of psychology in terms of clinical work, it would definitely be beneficial. In fact, there are not many positions that involve direct contact with clients in the field of psychology that don’t at least require a masters degree. The field is very protective of of the people that it serves, so there are a lot of rules/regulations about the kind of work that you can do.
That being said, there are a few psychology related jobs that you can take part in without an advanced degree. When I was in college, I worked as a behavioral specialist for children with autism. In general, you don’t need an advanced degree to do direct behavioral treatment with people who have developmental disabilities. You can also work in places like homes for the elderly and participate in planning activities or supporting the residents.
Psychology is also a great “back pocket” degree for applying to jobs in a variety of fields. You gain a better understanding of what makes people tick as well as a strong working knowledge of research, statistics, etc. This makes you a great candidate for many different positions.
What schools would be good to look at for a major in psych?
There are a zillion schools that have psychology programs. The great thing about psychology is that you don’t necessarily have to get your degree from a super famous research 1 institution to be successful. Personally, I went from a super competitive magnet high school to a small liberal arts university in a city no one has heard of. It didn’t hurt me at all. In fact, I owe a lot of the student that I have become to things that I learned at that university and I was able to get into a very competitive UC (University of California) for graduate school.
The best way to learn about the programs at the universities around you would be to go and check them out for yourself. Here is a list of schools to get you started.
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How difficult would it be to find a job in this field for a counseling position of some sort?
Like I said above, it’s difficult to find any sort of counseling position without an advanced degree. You can work in the field in various ways, but to provide real counseling or psychotherapy, you need a higher degree. You can find related experiences while you are in college if you are a peer adviser or something like that at your school, but nothing formal.
Once you get a higher degree, it is not entirely difficult to find a job in the field, but there are a few hoops to jump through before you can work independently. You need to get supervised hours under someone who has a license to provide therapy. That being said, once you start a training program, you will soon be immersed in clinical work while you are completing your degree. Sometimes these experiences are paid and sometimes they are not.
What steps did you take to come to the specific type of psychologist you are?
This is a good question because it points out one of the technicalities of the field. Technically, you can’t call yourself a psychologist if you don’t have your doctorate and are not licensed. It took 5 years of graduate school to get my Ph.D., a year-long pre-doctoral internship, and a year-long post-doctoral internship, plus 2 tests with the California Board of Psychology to get my license and thus call myself a Psychologist.
I started off in college as a psychology major. I got my Bachelors of Science degree, which enabled me to get more science experience while I got my psychology degree. I also did a clinical emphasis, which was available at my school. After graduating, I immediately entered into a Ph.D. program. Some people go into a Masters program or even take some time off first, but I wanted to just keep pushing through. In my Ph.D. program, which is a combined clinical, counseling and school psychology program, I got my Master’s degree after two years, and my Ph.D. after 5.
There are different types of psychologists including: counseling, clinical, school, industrial, experimental etc. Clinical psychologists can do therapy, psychological testing, research or teach in a university setting, which is what I do. My official title is Licensed Clinical Psychologist.
On average, what is a typical starting salary for a newly graduated psych major?
You know, I haven’t the slightest idea about this. For undergraduate psychology grads, there is probably a ton of variability in the types of work that people go into. Here is one analysis that I found online.
Do you think it is smart to have an business (major) back up just for insurance when graduated from college?
It really depends on what you want to do. Business and psychology probably don’t have too many classes that are overlapping unless you decide to go more of an industrial psychology route. That means that it would take a lot of effort on your part to make sure that you get the requirements met for both degrees. However, it definitely wouldn’t hurt your resume to have both qualifications. If you are thinking about maybe going into a field like human resources, that combination would make you an awesome candidate.
Would it be beneficial to do a study abroad at some point in the education?
YES. That is the case for everyone. There are just some experiences that you can’t beat and one of those is going to another country and experiencing life there. It helps you become a more well rounded person and it can give you a better perspective on things. BUT… I never studied abroad. I felt a little too pressured academically to be gone for an extended period of time. I sometimes regret it, though. I have been a professional student for a long time and feel like I may have missed out on some really amazing experiences by not studying abroad. My answer to this question will always be yes. Do it.
If I decide to get a masters or higher in my education, what would the basic requirements be?
Basically, you would need to get your undergraduate degree with a decent GPA. Then you need to get letters of recommendation from professors that feel confident in your ability to pursue the degree. Often times you also need to take the GRE, which is basically like the graduate school version of the SAT (it sucks). Finally, if it’s possible, it is always very attractive to have some research experience. If your school does active research, this experience might be working in ongoing research labs. You might also have the opportunity to set up your own research project and present it at a conference. These things would allow you to be considered by graduate programs.
Is there anything that you would like to tell me or any other perspective psych major that I forgot to ask?
You are already ahead of the game by asking these questions. It’s a very rewarding field because you get to directly make a difference in the lives of people that you work with. You can’t beat that. It’s also a field that has many hoops to jump through and there isn’t as big of a direct pay out to you when compared to the medical field. It’s definitely a labor of love, but I wouldn’t give it up for the world.
These were some great questions. If any of you have additional questions or if anything was unclear, feel free to leave a comment!