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Life with A Psychology Degree

Life with A Psychology Degree
By Terry Isbell
While most psychology majors plan on going on to graduate school to become
psychologists, many end up stopping at a Bachelor’s Degree. The purpose of this article is to
give you an overview of the bachelor’s degree in Psychology, as well as reviewing various
options for graduate school.
At the undergraduate level, you can get either a Bachelors of Science or the Bachelors of
Arts degrees in Psychology. In the old days, the BS degree usually required more sciences
and/or language courses than the BA degree. That distinction has fallen by the wayside at most
schools and the two degrees are now pretty interchangeable.
The big question I get from almost every student is: “What can I do with a Bachelors
degree in Psychology?” The bad news is that to actually do diagnosis or therapy, you must have
a graduate degree. The good news is that if you choose to stop at your Bachelors there are a host
of opportunities in other fields.
Based on a U.S. Census Bureau study of 150,000 college graduates, after Psychology
majors graduate:
- about 7% will earn a doctoral degree in psychology
or a related field
- about 30% will earn a master’s degree in psychology
or a related field
-about 6% will become doctors or lawyers
-about 57% will stop with bachelor’s degree
So a little over half of all psychology majors will enter into a career with their 4-year
college degree. They enter careers in business, health, social services, education, or other fields.
Fully 50 percent of bachelor’s degree holders work for businesses and for-profit
corporations. Another 16 percent work for the government, 14 percent work for educational
institutions and 13 percent are self-employed. The remaining 7 percent work in the private,
nonprofit sector, including charitable organizations.
So where do psychology majors with a bachelor's degree work? Overwhelmingly they go
into management and administration. This is followed in popularity by sales and then social
work. An increasingly popular option is human resources, which used to be called ‘Personnel’.
This field has become more popular as companies turn to psychologically trained individuals to
help them manage and train their employees.
The bachelor’s may not qualify you to be a psychologist, but the degree opens a lot of
career doors. Employers really appreciate the critical thinking skills, as well as the excellent
people skills, you’ll develop as a Psychology major at NSU.
There are two general divisions of graduate degrees, the master’s degree and the doctoral
degree. However, within each division, there are different kinds of degrees.
At the undergraduate level, we teach you the theory and the vocabulary, but in graduate
school we teach you hands-on, how to actually do psychology. In graduate school, you take only
psychology courses – not Math, English or History classes. What this means is that at the
Master's level, education becomes increasingly specialized. In other words, all undergraduate
programs pretty much cover the same material, but graduate programs tend to specialize in
narrow areas. Therefore, it's essential to pick the right degree and the right degree program.
So first, you have to know what you want to do with your career. The good news is that
this is NOT a decision you have to make today. Over the next four years, you will take more than
40 hours of PSYC courses. Somewhere along the way, you will find an area that really interests
you. Once you do, you then need to find the degree program that goes with that interest, and this
is important because you need to know for sure that the degree you pursue will prepare you to do
what you want. If you get in the wrong degree program, you can waste time and money, and end
up unprepared to do what you’d hoped.
I’m going to provide some general guidelines to help you understand some of the major
degree programs and their similarities and differences. However, this is such a complicated
issue, and so much is riding on your making informed decisions, I strongly advise you to find a
faculty member who knows the area you're interested in and pick their brain. Also, as it gets
closer to time to make that decision, you will need to do a LOT of research on your own. You
have to make an informed decision and the responsibility to find the right program is all
YOURS! That said, let’s look at some options.
At the undergrad level, you have the Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Science
(BS), but at the master’s degree level, there are about four different types of graduate degrees:
MA, MS, MEd, or MSW.
The M obviously stands for ‘Master’s’, and the second piece of information is the
discipline of the degree. This gets complicated because there isn’t perfect agreement on this
second part. Generally speaking, most psychology degree programs tend to be in the College of
Liberal Arts or the College of Education, and so those master’s degrees are generally Master of
Master’s degrees from more applied disciplines like nursing, or chemistry, are generally
Master of Science. At some schools, getting an MA indicates that a thesis is required, whereas
an MS indicates that it is not; however, this is not always the case. NSU is a good example of an
exception to a couple of rules: we have an MS degree in Clinical Psychology despite the fact we
are in an Education Department, and we don’t require a thesis. There is no widespread
agreement on these concepts, which is something you will need to keep in mind when we break
these down.
An MA in Psychology tends to be a ‘general’ psychology degree. The coursework is less
focused on a specific area. Traditionally, this prepared you for teaching or administrative type
jobs, but in truth, these days there is really no difference in job opportunities between the MA
and the MS degrees.
The MS though, is where we tend to see specialization. You can get an MS in:
-Counseling Psychology
-Industrial Organizational
-Experimental (which has several sub-fields)
There are two non-psychology master’s degrees that are closely related to psychology.
One is the MEd: Master’s in Education, which is just like it sounds – it’s a masters degree from
an Education Department. These are almost always in one of two areas:
-Counseling – general counseling with a school emphasis, which means learning
how to give and interpret educational placement types of tests.
-Guidance and Counseling – this is the traditional high school guidance counselor
The other related degree is the MSW: Master’s in Social Work. Again, exactly like it
sounds. Years ago, an MSW either taught, or did classic ‘social work’ like child protective
services. Then they started branching out, and one area they branched into was ‘clinical social
work’. So today, the MSW is an option for those wanting to go into the mental health field as
well. However, you can NOT do testing or diagnostic work with an MSW and you can’t work
with the mentally ill, just the population we refer to as ‘the troubled well’. So the MSW is a little
more limiting than a Master’s in Psychology. Traditionally, MSW’s have specialized in working
with family therapy, substance abuse, and neglected/abused children.
What differentiates the MA/MS from MEd and MSW is psychology’s emphasis on
science and research. Psychology is an empirically based field. We don’t have much patience
with hunches or ‘I think’ – we want you to base your professional decisions on the scientific
research. In any psychology master’s degree program there will be research courses and you will
be required to produce an original piece of research. Not so for most MEd or MSW programs,
where, if they even require a research project, you can usually choose the option of ‘course in
lieu of thesis’ or ‘internship in lieu of thesis’.
In psychology, the doctoral degree is considered the ‘terminal’ degree. This means you
can’t go any higher, which in turn means the job opportunities are much greater for the doctoral
degree. But that specialization issue that I spoke of earlier with the master’s degree really shows
up in the doctoral degrees. There are literally dozens of different kinds of psychologists, and so
there are dozens of different kinds of doctoral programs.
Let’s take the most popular of doctoral psychology degrees first: the PhD (Doctorate in
Philosophy) in Clinical Psychology.
If you have this degree, you can wear three hats:
1. You can teach at the college level
2. You can do research, which is a skill that is in huge demand out there in
government, drug companies, insurance companies, industry of pretty much every
3. You can do clinical work (therapy).
However, a big part of your coursework to get this degree involves working with faculty
on research, writing original papers, developing your Doctoral thesis ideas, and conducting
original research for the degree, all while seeing a LOT of patients in supervised settings.
So in general, if you don’t like to do research, you will probably not like getting the PhD
degree. On the other hand, this is the only degree where when you finish it, you can wear all
three of those hats listed above.
Let’s say though, that you know you are never going to want to teach or do research, you
just want to do therapy. In that case you might want to look into the PsyD degree. The PsyD is
a doctoral degree and is considered the ‘practice degree’ in psychology. PsyD programs cut out
most of the research requirements of the PhD programs and focus training on diagnosing mental
illness and doing therapy.
The PsyD degree is very popular, but you should be aware that the degree is a little more
limiting than the PhD since PsyD graduates can only wear one hat – clinical work. They won’t
get jobs in research positions, and they usually don’t get university teaching jobs because
university faculty are required to perform and publish original research.
For more specific information, the APA produces a book every year, Graduate Study in
Psychology, which lists over 550 graduate psychology programs throughout the United States
and Canada. The book includes information on different universities, their psychology graduate
degrees, admission requirements, graduation requirements, financial aid, tuition, deadlines, and
internships. A list of APA-accredited Doctoral programs in clinical, counseling, and school
psychology is also published yearly in the American Psychologist. Check the APA web site,
www.apa.org, for more information.
Department of Psychology
Northwestern State University
Some of the Types of Jobs available for a Student with a Bachelor’s in Psychology
Human Service
• Behavior Analyst
• Case Worker
• Child Protection Worker
• College Admission Counselor
• Corrections Officer
• Counselor Aide
• Day Care Center Supervisor
• Drug/Substance Abuse Counselor
• Family Service Worker
• Group Home Coordinator
• Mental Retardation Unit Manager
• Probation/Parole Officer
• Rehabilitation Advisor
• Residential Youth Counselor
• Social Services Director
• Veteran’s Director
• Research Analyst/Planner
• Research Assistant
• Research Technician
• Research Trainee
Human Resources
• Employment Counselor
• Human Resource Assistant
• Interviewer
• Personnel Specialist
• Recruiter
• Training Specialist
Retail and Sales
• Customer Relations
• Insurance Agent
• Sales Representative
• Store Manager
• Warehouse Manager
Helpful Websites
• Administrative Assistant
• Personnel Worker/Administrator
• Program Assistant
• Secretary
• Small Business Owner
Community Relations
• Director of Activity and Recreations
• Director of Alumni Relations
• Director of Volunteer Services
• Neighborhood Outreach Worker
• Park and Recreation Director
Program Development
• College Admissions Recruiter
• Director of Alumni Recreations
• Director of Fundraising
Public Relations
• Newspaper Reporter
• Public Information Officer
• Technical Writer
• Advertising Agent
• Advertising Trainee
• Media Buyer
• Instructor
• Programs for Handicapped Adults
• Private Tutor
• School Representative
Marketing/Market Research
• Claim Specialist
• Marketing Researcher
• Marketing Representative
• Occupational Analyst
• Statistical Assistant