Are you interested in learning about how the human brain works? Do you ever wonder about how people perceive the world or about how children learn? Are you curious about what it means to have a mental illness? Have you thought about a career in counseling and therapy? Do you like the idea of studying scientific concepts in an applied field?
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Psychology is the scientific study of the brain, cognitive function, emotion, learning, and behavior. It involves scientific observation and experimentation, including the study of human and animal behavior within a laboratory setting. Across academia, psychology is considered a social science. Psychology programs and associated degrees may be found within both the liberal arts and natural sciences.
As a student in psychology, you will experience a number of different areas within the field. These areas may include: developmental psychology, clinical psychology, social psychology, evolutionary psychology, abnormal psychology, forensic psychology, industrial and organizational psychology, sports psychology, cognition, counseling, language, neuroscience, and perception.
Psychology students may also need foundational coursework in biology and statistics.
Psychology is the scientific study of the brain, cognitive function, emotion, learning, and behavior. It involves research through scientific observation and experimentation. Psychiatry is a medical specialty within psychology focused on patients with mental illnesses, and requires a medical degree rather than a PhD.
You can pursue many careers, such as counseling and mental health services. You may also want to work in state agencies, schools, or human resources or program management offices. People with psychology degrees can provide expertise within the court system and can provide counseling and therapy services.
No. To become a psychologist you will need a PhD in psychology from an accredited program, and at this time there are no such programs available online.
While there are some career fields open to people with a master’s degrees in psychology, including positions in forensic psychology, industrial/organizational psychology, human resources and mental health, this degree is not sufficient to work with clients as a psychologist or psychotherapist. For that type of work, you need a PhD. Alternately, to become a licensed counselor (a job which does not include treating mental illnesses directly) you would either need to get a PhD. in Psychology or a Master’s Degree in Social Work.
Psychology involves an understanding of the human brain and of physiology, so there is some science involved. Research also involves statistical analysis. If you plan to pursue a graduate degree or medical school, you will need additional science coursework.
There are quite a few degree options within the psychology field. If you wish to pursue a career as a counselor or therapist, have the goal of becoming a psychologist or psychiatrist, or want to become a psychology researcher, you will need a graduate degree. More specifically, to become a counselor, you will need a master’s or doctoral degree and professional licensing. For careers that involve medical treatment or pharmaceuticals, you will need to complete a medical degree (M.D. or O.D).
There are a number of online BA and BS psychology degrees that are equivalent to those found at traditional brick and mortar universities. These online entities provide similar career and graduate school opportunities as degrees earned in traditional university settings.
Beyond the bachelor’s degree, it is crucial that you consider your intended career as you make graduate school decisions. Licensing is mandatory for many careers in psychology, and in order to sit for the required licensing exams, you must graduate from an accredited program.
While there are a number of online undergraduate psychology programs, there are no accredited graduate programs that are fully online. Even online master’s degree programs will require some in-person/on-site work as a student transitions from the study of psychology to actual practice with patient care. To become licensed as a psychologist, you must graduate from an APA-accredited doctoral program, and at this time there are no such programs available online.
If your goal is advanced study in psychology but you do not wish to become a clinical psychologist, counselor, or doctor, there are a few online options. For example, Michigan State University does offer a hybrid doctoral program in educational psychology and educational technology that is “substantially online”. This program allows graduates to serve as college faculty and work within state institutions and private corporations.
Additional Resources for researching psychology accredited programs of study:
Organizations that provide accreditation for specialized degrees:
To study psychology at the undergraduate level, generally you only need to be eligible to be admitted at the university of your choice. Some programs may have additional internal admission criteria for the major.
For a psychology major, you will need to complete general education coursework in humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and arts and culture, as determined by the institution and state. BS degrees will require additional science and math classes.
Once admitted to a psychology program, an Introduction to Psychology course will be your first class in the major. You will also need to take statistics, and possibly an Introduction to Psychology Research course before moving into advanced level coursework.
Within the psychology major, expect to take courses in a number of different areas within the field, in areas such as cognitive psychology, perception, behavioral psychology, or social psychology. Some of these courses may involve a laboratory component in which you participate in scientific psychology experiments and write up the results.
While there are a wide range of careers open to individuals with associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, many common career fields for psychology graduates will require degrees at the master’s or doctorate level, and may also require additional state certification to practice the profession. These fields include:
To become a licensed psychologist, you need to be licensed through your state’s licensing board. Although requirements vary from state to state, the minimum requirements include:
Some psychology specializations may require additional certifications in the specialized field.
The good news is that the job market in psychology is strong, and many related career fields are experiencing growth. A 12% growth rate in jobs is expected over the next ten years.
However, it is worth noting that psychology is also a very popular field of study. The number of psychology master’s degrees increased 54% from 2004 to 2013; the number of awarded doctorate degrees increased 32% in the same period. This means that while there is job growth in the field, competition for available jobs is also increasing. In fact, the increase in the number of degrees awarded outpaces the projected outlook for the field of psychology, which is average across all occupations.
How can you improve your chances of finding a career using your psychology degree in this increasingly competitive job market? Individuals with advanced degrees in applied psychology and in school psychology face the best career prospects. Other careers that draw on psychology training that have higher rates of growth include: marketing research analysts (32% growth), social work (19%), statistician (27%), and operation research analysis (27%). You should also consider internships and other hands-on learning opportunities at the undergraduate level, and seek out a highly ranked graduate program with a good job placement rate.
For licensed Psychologists, the median annual wage for licensed psychologists is $70,000-$85,000. Psychiatrists can expect salaries significantly higher, with the 2015 median salary expected to be $203,000. Other careers within psychology, particularly master’s level counseling positions, generally fall in the range of $30,000-$50,000. Salaries will be higher for those people working in medical fields and in private practice than with those working for state government and education institutions, who receive lower salaries but stronger job security.
As a psychology major, you will become exposed to a variety of research techniques and other skills that can be extremely valuable in the job market. These skills include:
In today’s job market, employers are interested in what students can do, as well as what they have learned. Developing skills and applying them to real-life situations can be extremely valuable. While in school, the best way to gain hands-on experience is through career-related internships.
The following is a list of internship possibilities for a psychology major: