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Should You Become a Psychology Major? Information to Help You Decide

A woman speaks to another woman to help her decide if she should become a psychology major

Understanding the Numbers
When reviewing job growth and salary information, it’s important to remember that actual numbers can vary due to many different factors — like years of experience in the role, industry of employment, geographic location, worker skill and economic conditions. Cited projections do not guarantee actual salary or job growth.

Majoring in psychology can not only be personally rewarding, but it can prepare you for a variety of careers. Beyond the human services field, a psychology major often leads to jobs in business, education, government and roles that require a deep understanding of people and how they interact with one another.

Students often choose to major in psychology because they want to help others. However, it’s important not to narrowly define what that means, said Dr. Barbara Lesniak, executive director of social science programs at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).

Dr. Barbara Lesniak and the text Dr. Barbara Lesniak“Students with a bachelor’s degree in psychology can certainly get non-licensed entry-level positions where they directly help and support others at places like substance abuse clinics, social services agencies, schools and similar organizations," she said.

Lesniak also noted that graduates can also use the skills earned with a degree in the business sector, in areas like "human resources or training/development or in customer-focused positions where they might deal with difficult situations that need to be de-escalated."

A popular major, psychology is one of the top 10 undergraduate programs in the United States, according to The Princeton Review.

Lesniak refers to the psychology degree as “the utility knife” of degrees because it is useful in most job roles, such as any position that requires you to interact with people.

What Do Psychology Majors Learn?

As an undergraduate, you can expect to learn key psychological concepts, human behavior and research methods. Your classes will help you develop the critical thinking skills you need to communicate effectively.

More specifically, you’ll take a variety of general education courses in English, math, science and the humanities — as well as courses in your major. You’ll also be able to choose from a wide range of electives.

Dr. Thomas Maccarty with the text Dr. Thomas MaccartyYou may wonder, “Is psychology a hard major?”

You might find classes to be rigorous and writing-intensive, but to be successful, you must be able to write a paper and argue your point of view effectively, according to Dr. Thomas MacCarty, associate dean of social science programs at SNHU.

MacCarty worked as a probation and parole officer and opened a private addiction counseling practice before he entered the educational side of psychology.

At some universities, you can choose concentrations within your major to prepare you for a specific career path or graduate study. There are many types of psychology, so here's a breakdown of a few concentrations to help you learn about your options:

  • Addictions degree - Explore the nature of addiction, including behaviors like substance abuse and gambling. Learn about the evolution of these habits and their treatment while studying the biopsychology of behavior and the potential social causes of addiction.
  • Forensic psychology degree - Apply your research skills, psychological knowledge and critical thinking abilities to a variety of issues facing the legal system to prepare for jobs that require psychological assessment, investigative research and crime analytics.
  • Industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology degree – Dive into organizational development, career development and decision theory, gaining valuable insights. Explore key areas like recruitment, training and performance measurement, preparing you for human resources and organizational management roles.
  • Mental health degree - Focus on counseling techniques and psychological assessment to prepare for further graduate study in mental health counseling, clinical psychology or social work.

Find Your Program

How Long Does it Take to Major in Psychology?

Bachelor's degrees are often referred to as "four-year degrees," but the amount of time it takes to earn a bachelor's in psychology all depends on your goals, educational background and the type of program you choose.

Online courses, for example, may provide you the flexibility to take classes that mesh well with your current schedule and lifestyle.

Once you choose your psychology program type, you'll need to consider the number of courses you want to take each term. It might be tempting to enroll in multiple courses each term to finish quicker, but it may not be feasible if you have other commitments at work or home.

You might also save time if you've already earned college credits. Some universities will allow you to transfer those credits toward your degree program.

For example, SNHU accepts up to 90 transfer credits toward your psychology program. Whatever program you choose, your academic advisor can help you map out a plan to best help you reach your goals.

What Jobs Can You Get By Majoring in Psychology?

While an undergraduate psychology degree alone won’t qualify you to become a licensed psychologist, it does open the door to many helping professions and entry-level roles in business.

The American Psychological Association (APA) identifies the types of jobs you may get with a psychology degree on its website.

Here are five roles a bachelor’s degree in psychology might prepare you for.

1. Human Resources Specialist

Human resources specialists screen, recruit, interview and place workers in job roles. They also handle complex employee relations, compensation, benefits and training. You may be well-suited for this role if you have solid interpersonal and communication skills.

If you are interested in a position like this, consider pursuing a degree in I-O psychology.

"Graduates from programs or concentrations in I-O psychology, such as SNHU's, are hired by human resource departments all the time," said MacCarty. "The education received in I-O psychology programs prepares those students extremely well to work in human resources."

Human resource specialist roles are on the rise, too, according to BLS, as the role is expected to grow 6% from 2022 to 2032.* The median annual salary for the position was $64,240 in 2022, BLS reported.*

2. Market Research Analyst

What makes buyers favor one brand over another? Market research analysts can help organizations get a better idea by studying market conditions to examine potential product or service sales.

If you have strong math and analytical skills, this role might appeal to you, as it focuses on collecting and interpreting data related to consumer demographics, preferences, needs and buying habits.

There continues to be a strong demand for market research analysts, as the job is expected to grow 13% from 2022 to 2032, according to BLS, which is much faster than average.* BLS also reported that market research analysts earned a median salary of $68,230 in 2022.*

3. Probation Officer and Correctional Treatment Specialist

Often, when an individual is released from jail or prison, they must comply with court-ordered supervision. Probation and parole officers provide guidance and help people get the resources they need to successfully reintegrate into society.

As a correctional treatment specialist, you would help probationers and parolees create and stick to rehabilitation plans. These roles require critical thinking, decision-making skills and an understanding of substance abuse.

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists earned a median salary of $59,860 in 2022, according to the BLS, and the role is expected to grow by 3% from 2022 to 2032.*

4. Sales Manager

Closing a sale requires understanding your customer's needs and what it takes to overcome their objections. Sales managers can work in a variety of industries and typically set sales goals, analyze data and develop training programs for their sales representatives.

Sales managers earned a median salary of $130,600 in 2022, and the role is expected to grow 4% from 2022 to 2032, according to BLS.*

5. Social and Community Service Manager

Social and community service managers work for nonprofit organizations, for-profit social service companies and government agencies. For example, they may focus on providing services to children, the homeless, older adults or veterans.

As a social or community service manager, you would focus on supervising staff and volunteers who provide direct services to their clients. You may also be responsible for collecting data, overseeing budgets or meeting with potential donors.

In 2022, social and community service managers earned a median salary of $74,240, and the roles are expected to grow 9% (much faster than average) from 2022 to 2032, according to BLS.*

To advance your career or open doors to other professions, you might want to consider an internship.

Internships for a Psychology Major

Internships expose you to the real-world application of psychology. They can also help you understand what you encounter daily in a job. Completing an internship as part of your undergraduate psychology program can help you build valuable networks and contacts for post-graduation career searches or letters of recommendation if you decide to apply to a graduate program.

Consider completing an internship in your area of interest and working with your career advisor to find experiences that best match your career goals.

According to Handshake, popular psychology internships include research and assistant roles in community clinics, nonprofit organizations, schools or correctional facilities, for example.

 headshot of Dr. Nikolas DominelloCompleting a bachelor’s degree in psychology can prepare you for graduate study in psychology. As you navigate the educational next steps, it helps to keep your end goal in mind, said Dr. Nikolas Dominello, senior associate dean of social science programs at SNHU.

For example, if you want to become a mental health counselor, a school counselor or work with a specific population in the future, consider the coursework and internships that can bring you one more step closer to your goal.

After completing an internship and learning what jobs most appeal to you, you might be ready to consider graduate programs. You can enter or advance in many fields with the help of a master's degree in psychology, including child and adolescent development psychology, forensic psychology or industrial-organizational psychology.

An undergraduate psychology degree can also provide a solid foundation to pursue a graduate degree in clinical mental health counseling or other fields such as social work or school counseling.

What Can You Do With a Graduate Degree in Psychology?

A master's degree in psychology can deepen your understanding of research methods, cognitive psychology, social psychology and personality, learning theory and ethical practice while focusing on the real-world application of psychological research.

A master’s degree in psychology doesn’t automatically lead to licensure as a clinical mental health counselor. Clinical mental health counseling is a specialized field that requires a prescribed course of study and skills development, along with internship hours, according to Lesniak.

Here are some concentrations you can specialize in as part of a master’s in psychology program and the types of jobs associated with each degree. These concentrations can position you well to pursue doctoral-level coursework and seek employment in several fields.

If you're wondering what else you can do with a psychology degree, explore additional career options.

Do You Want to Become a Clinical Mental Health Counselor?

When you think of someone with a background in psychology, you may think of a professional who evaluates, treats and follows up with clients struggling with mental health issues. Only those licensed in clinical mental health counseling can provide these services to patients.

If your dream is to ultimately work as a clinical mental health counselor, an undergraduate background in psychology may be the first step toward reaching your goal — followed by a master's in clinical mental health counseling.

For instance, at SNHU, the CACREP Accreditation clinical mental health counseling master’s degree program requires you to complete 60 academic credits, a 100-hour practicum and two 300-hour internships. However, some states require additional hours for licensure.

Potential career outcomes in this program include licensed professional counseling and substance abuse counseling, for example.

Summing it Up

Still on the fence about whether you should major in psychology? No matter what your ultimate career or educational goals might be, a degree in psychology helps you better understand concepts, principles and theories from a scientific standpoint — skills you can apply at work and to many aspects of your life.

A degree can change your life. Find the SNHU psychology program that can best help you meet your goals.

*Cited job growth projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth. Actual salaries and/or earning potential may be the result of a combination of factors including, but not limited to: years of experience, industry of employment, geographic location, and worker skill.

Krysten Godfrey Maddocks '11 is a writer and marketing/communication professional. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.