September 17, 2015
Mental health professionals, marketers, human resource specialists and research scientists all have very different roles. Yet many began their careers in the same way with a psychology degree at the core of their chosen vocation. The versatility of this degree, at both bachelor's and master's levels, allows graduates to venture into a variety of fields. For busy working adults ready to enrich their career through continuing education, a psychology online degree can be ideal.
The degree's versatility is not surprising. According to Dr. Michelle Hill, associate dean of psychology programs at Southern New Hampshire University, the Bachelor of Arts in Psychology program is geared to two things: preparing students for entry-level careers in a broad range of fields and, in a more general sense, for success in life in a diverse, global society. It also positions students for success should they choose to continue on with graduate study in psychology.
The career flexibility afforded by a bachelor's in psychology is no doubt a main attraction. With its emphasis on information literacy and quantitative skills, a psychology degree imparts skills and education that can be applied widely. Graduates emerge with a deeper understanding of themselves and others along with better communication, critical-thinking and conflict-resolution skills.
The American Psychological Association developed guidelines for psychology majors, creating four skills-based goals and one content-focused goal, as noted in this list:
These are highly desirable characteristics in any workplace, and also prove advantageous in fields not necessarily top of mind for psychology degree holders. For example, the skills listed above are well suited to careers in marketing and sales, especially market research. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a staggering 31.6% increase in market research analyst positions between 2012 and 2022 across many industries. As U.S. News and World Report notes, "Some of the most successful analysts seem to understand human emotions as much as they understand logic." Their success may well have begun with a psychology degree.
A psychology online degree provides a solid footing for success in many fields. Students with specific areas of interest can take a more laser-focused approach by adding a program concentration.
At SNHU, bachelor's students have six concentration options: addictions, applied psychology, child and adolescent development, forensic psychology, mental health and social psychology. Master's students can choose from three concentrations: child and developmental psychology, forensic psychology and industrial-organizational psychology.
Confused about the differences? Let's break it down:
There are a lot of good reasons to earn a psychology degree, particularly for someone who isn't quite sure where the career path might lead and wants to have options.
Many students choose to pursue the general track of the psychology online degree to experience education in various arenas of the psychology field, says Josh Patton, undergraduate academic advising team lead at SNHU. "This helps to give a student a holistic approach and education within the field," said Patton. "As for the concentrations, we see students who have a passion for those specific areas and typically have a life event that pushes them in a certain direction."
For many, the impetus for earning a bachelor's in psychology is a strong desire to help others. Most psychology students want to give back to their communities and society. Some want to continue on for additional graduate work and look for licensure in their home states as counselors or psychologists. It is important to note that SNHU's psychology online program is a research-oriented program that does not lead to licensure.
Patton says that students often work in the field and incorporate their learning into their day-to-day responsibilities while earning their degrees. "The degree is also an avenue to advance in that field or change direction to pursue a specific area of their choosing," he said. "With many of our students, the degree helps with the next step professionally."
Graduate academic advisor Jen Rivers spoke to the collaborative alignment between master's degree coursework and students already working in the psychology field. Students often mention that their coursework aligns with what they are doing and helps them with their jobs," she said. "They also mention that what they're doing in their jobs has prepared them for some assignments in their courses, too."
Students currently in the field gain the most through the psychology concentrations, says Tessa Ledoux, also a graduate academic advisor, mainly because the coursework is connected to their professional work and resonates through their daily experiences. "All of my students look forward to taking the concentration courses as that is typically where their heart is in terms of the field," said Ledoux.
Many students at the graduate level are working in business or case management settings and are pursuing a master's in psychology to broaden their knowledge and skills and potentially increase their compensation.
Often seen as more of a social science than physical science, psychology has been discussed as a potential STEM discipline due to its reliance on scientific practices. For graduate student Andrew Fitzgerald, the ultimate goal is working as a laboratory/research scientist in the field of psychological science, neuroscience or toxicology. Psychology is the path he's chosen to get him there.
With a bachelor's degree from a traditional university setting, Fitzgerald opted to earn a master's in psychology online degree at SNHU, so he could work while earning his graduate degree. He chose a concentration in child developmental psychology, primarily because the classes sounded interesting, cognitive neuropsychology in particular.
Although he's not currently employed in his desired field, Fitzgerald is working with a staffing agency for placement in a scientific environment. "They are impressed that I have experience with research methods and statistical software," he said. Fitzgerald may have chosen SNHU due to its reputation, accreditation and nonprofit status, but now that he's in the program he appreciates that it incorporates psychological research methods as well as how to use statistical software and analyze data. It's the background he needs to achieve his goals.
Fitzgerald's end game involves lab/research work, yet many who choose the child and development psychology concentration want to work with youth. Ledoux says that those who wish to work with children, teens or families feel that a psychology degree is their best path. "Often students are looking for licensure paths or continuing their education through a doctorate after graduation," she said.
While these programs, at both bachelor's and master's levels, do not lead to licensure, they can in fact lead to roles across many child-centric disciplines at mental health clinics, schools and social service agencies. "Many of our students want to work with kids in foster care, with children with disabilities or with troubled youth," said Ledoux.
Such is the case with graduate student Rodrigo Munoz. He initially earned his bachelor's in psychology with a concentration in mental health at SNHU in 2014, procuring a job in a psychiatric hospital shortly thereafter. Munoz says that the months that followed were an eye opener for him.
"I was able to see and experience what was happening firsthand in the community, especially the Latin community," he said. "Many Latin children and adolescents were becoming 'revolving doors' due to different causes."
Munoz found that many were unable to adapt to life in a new country and the new culture and some missed their home country terribly. He realized if he wanted to help his community, he needed to continue his education and enrolled in SNHU's master's in psychology online degree, with a concentration in child and developmental psychology.
Earning his master's while working full-time as an admissions coordinator at the psychiatric hospital has been beneficial for Munoz. He feels it enables him to perform his duties at work in a more conscious and professional manner. "My career goal is to help the Latin community," he said. "I have experienced so many gaps, such as language barriers and lack of cultural sensitivity in treatment, that I feel the need to focus on this particular population."
Upon completion of his master's, Munoz plans to continue his education to eventually become a clinical psychologist.
Industrial-organizational psychology and forensic psychology are two particularly hot areas of study.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) ranked industrial-organizational (I-O) psychologists as one of the fastest-growing occupations throughout 2022. In a time when we're asked to work smarter, I-O psychologists assist across the board. The BLS notes I-O psychologists "apply psychology to the workplace by using psychological principles and research methods to solve problems and improve the quality of work life." By focusing on productivity, the manner in which employees and management interact and work as well as overall morale, an I-O psychologist can set an organization on the path to avoid stressors and focus on positive change for greater efficiencies, better hiring practices and overall workplace morale and retention of employees.
The I-O concentration is a desirable choice for master's psychology online degree students currently in management roles or who aspire to that role or one in human resources says Cierra Sipley, a graduate academic advisor at SNHU. "My I-O students seem to have a clear path and know how they will apply their degree in their career," she said.
The focus on forensic psychology in popular television shows and movies, as well as the fascinating nature of this area, has elevated interest in this field. Those involved in forensic psychology research and analyze the motives and patterns of criminal behavior, assess, treat and rehabilitate individuals in private practice and corrections facilities, engage in criminal profiling, work within the court system, and more. While the work may be a bit more low-key than what's depicted on the big screen, there's still plenty of intrigue in the challenges offered in this field.
Personal experience led Elizabeth Gutierrez to pursue a bachelor's of psychology online degree with a concentration in forensic psychology. A victim of sexual assault, Gutierrez wants to help others who have experienced sexual assault and other violent crimes. "I know how much an advocate can mean to a person who has no idea what to do or where to turn to once they do come forward," she said.
Her goal is to change the stigma that's often placed on victims of sexual assault, by law enforcement officials and the general public. "With criminals, it's innocent until proven guilty. But when someone comes forward about a sexual assault, they seem to have to prove they are telling the truth," said Gutierrez. Earning her bachelor's is the first step in working toward change.
Gutierrez acknowledges that many hear "forensic psychology" and think of CSI and crime scenes. For her, it's more about working with law enforcement in many settings. "A forensic psychologist may work with child custody cases, victims of crimes, perform competency evaluations for trials, and numerous others things within the court system," she said. "It's a career choice that has a variety of aspects, and you can really make your career what you want it to be by participating in all aspects or just focusing on the parts you love."
A military spouse, Gutierrez' pursuit of a degree offered its own set of challenges due to expected moves throughout the country as her husband serves. She needed a solution that accommodated her life, no matter where it took her family. While a psychology online degree offered that, she focused on "finding an online school I felt was credible and would give me a college education I could be proud of and work hard toward."
Gutierrez found that with SNHU and in the two years she's worked toward her degree, the family has moved twice. "Online was absolutely the best choice for me," she said.
Danielle Komenda is a career advisor for SNHU's psychology online degree programs and works intensively with students in bachelor's and master's programs. She says many of the students are interested in therapy, social work case management, mental health services and victim assistance, though some plan to become a licensed mental health therapist through further education and experience beyond the SNHU psychology programs, as these programs do not lead to licensure.
Komenda walks students through the process to look at specific state licensure requirements, the level of education they need and the experience employers are seeking. Finally, she breaks down their goals and helps students see the types of jobs they'll need to achieve their ultimate goal of licensure to practice therapy.
Many of the entry-level positions that I suggest to students are case management roles, youth worker, social services liaison, juvenile court liaison, community outreach worker, psychiatric aide and rehabilitation care worker," said Komenda. "Much of the conversation centers around the importance of volunteering, internships and employment to build experience along with education."
Academic advisor Sipley also encourages students to work hard on their capstone projects, which serve as a culmination of their graduate psychology online degree experience - and to choose a topic they're passionate about and excited to share. "The capstone is very beneficial to students," she said. "Their capstone should be something they would be proud to share with their employer [or a potential employer in an interview]."
Whether you're continuing a degree you began long ago or considering the start of a bachelor's or master's degree without a particular program in mind, a straightforward psychology online degree offers a wide spectrum of possibilities in today's ever-changing and increasingly competitive marketplace.
As students progress in this field of study, and particular interests are triggered, concentrations allow for far more focused learning, leading to specific career paths. Industrial-organizational psychology and forensic psychology are among the hottest fields. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates a solid 12% growth rate across all fields through 2018 and a continued demand for psychological services in healthcare facilities, substance abuse treatment centers, schools and social service agencies.
The skills and knowledge acquired with psychology degrees are universal across diverse industries from social services to the corporate world and offer enormous personal and professional benefit, and yet they all tie back into one basic desire - the ability to help others. Whether it's as a vocational counselor, a marketing research analyst, human resources professional, working with children at risk, a laboratory/research scientist or eventually becoming a licensed psychologist, it all starts with a psychology degree.
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