If you plan on becoming a psychologist, you might want to know that this career requires many years of study and practice. Psychologists seek to understand and explain thought, emotion, feelings, or behaviors to increase our understand of why people and animals behave as they do. If you plan to work in this field with a bachelor’s degree, you can do so as an assistant; however, psychologists with a doctoral degree qualify for the widest range of teaching, research, clinical, and counseling positions in universities, healthcare services, elementary and secondary schools, private industry, and government. Additionally, master’s and doctoral degree holders face less competition in the workplace.
What you can do with a bachelor’s degree in psychology
Earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology can qualify you to assist psychologists and other professionals in community health centers, vocational rehabilitation offices, and in correctional programs. You may also work as an administrative assistant for psychologists or find employment in other areas, such as sales, service, or business management.
A job with the federal government is one of the few ways that you can work as a psychologist without an advanced degree. If you want to work for the federal government, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree with a minimum of 24 semester hours in psychology, or a combination of education and experience to qualify for entry-level positions only. Competition for these jobs is tough, so count on working hard in school to maintain a high grade point average (GPA).
In the future, opportunities directly related to psychology will be limited for bachelor’s degree holders. Some may find jobs as assistants or in other jobs involving data collection and analysis. Those who meet state certification requirements may become high school psychology teachers. According to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), beginning teachers with a bachelor’s degree earned an average of $33,227 in the 2005-2006 school year.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salaries for wage and salary clinical, counseling, and school psychologists were $64,140 in May 2008.
What you can do with a master’s degree in psychology
People with a master’s degree in psychology may work in a variety of fields. Some options include:
- Industrial-organizational psychologists
- Psychological assistants conducting research under the direct supervision of doctoral-level psychologists
- Teaching at the post-secondary level in junior colleges, trade schools, and high school
A master’s degree in psychology requires at least two years of full-time graduate study and requirements for graduation usually include practical experience in an applied setting and a master’s thesis based on an original research project. Some universities require applicants to have an undergraduate major in psychology, but other colleges prefer coursework in basic psychology with additional courses in the biological, physical, and social sciences, and in statistics and mathematics. Many degrees may depend upon your specialization. Some master’s degree programs in psychology include:
- MA or MS in Experimental Psychology
- MA or MS in Industrial-Organizational Psychology
- MA or MS in Forensic Psychology [PDF]
- MA or MS in Clinical Psychology
- MA or MS in Social Psychology
- MA or MS in Child Development
A terminal master’s program does open the door to entry level jobs in fields such as mental health, industrial-organizational psychology and forensic psychology. Other sectors of employment include colleges, universities, private business and government.
Master’s degree holders in fields other than industrial-organizational psychology may face stiff competition for jobs, because of the limited number of positions that require only a master’s degree. Master’s degree holders may find jobs as psychological assistants or counselors, providing mental health services under the direct supervision of a licensed psychologist. Still, others may find jobs involving research and data collection and analysis in universities, government, or private companies.
What you can do with a doctoral degree in psychology
The American Psychological Association makes it perfectly clear in their introduction to “What Is Psychology?” article that psychologists have doctoral degrees. Additionally, they go on to say that opportunities in psychology for those with higher degrees will be more plentiful than for those with undergraduate degrees. The careers for psychologists with doctoral degrees can vary, and opportunities for people with advanced degrees in psychology are expanding in number as well as in scope:
- The move toward preventing illness rather than merely diagnosing and treating it requires people to learn how to make healthy behavior a routine part of living.
- In addition, an aging America is leading to more research and practice in adapting homes and workplaces for older people.
- The diversity in America today calls for psychologists to develop and refine treatments and approaches to meet the unique needs of different racial and ethnic groups.
- Furthermore, research advances in learning and memory, and the integration of physical and mental health care, make psychology more exciting than ever.
Psychologists with doctoral degrees are helping to make the changes that are needed. Many employers are interested in the skills that psychology majors bring to collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data and their experience with statistics and experimental design. Many psychologists with doctoral degrees work independently and also team up with other professionals to contribute to every area of society.
Job prospects should be best for people who have a doctoral degree from a leading university in an applied specialty, such as counseling or health, and those with a specialist or doctoral degree in school psychology. Psychologists with extensive training in quantitative research methods and computer science may have a competitive edge over applicants without such background.
The decision whether or not to earn a master’s or doctoral degree in psychology is up to you. You need to be passionate about your career choice, and willing to commit time and energy to a higher degree. For many individuals, earning an advanced degree is a great way to open doors to new professional opportunities. Those with a master’s or doctorate degree typically have more job options and earn more money than those with an undergraduate degree in psychology.
Obtaining an advanced degree in psychology is a major achievement, but it isn’t right for everyone. Graduate school involves a major investment of both time and money, so it is important to get as much information as you can before making a choice to go beyond a bachelor’s degree. But, your achievements can pay off in more freedom, greater responsibilities, and a career that could make a difference in many lives.