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Psychology is the scientific study of thought patterns and behavior. While it’s natural for humans to be curious about why people think, feel and act the way they do, you might wonder if spending four years – or more – earning a degree in psychology is worthwhile.
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The reality is that there are many advantages to studying the field of psychology. The degree can equip you with marketable skills and prepare you for an exciting and well-paid career – or several. You will have the chance to help others overcome their problems or to conduct illuminating experiments into why people think and behave in certain ways. The knowledge you gain from studying psychology can even help you cope with tough situations that arise in your personal life.
To find out more about the many hidden benefits you’ll gain by earning a degree in psychology, read on.
High Earning Potential
Money alone won’t buy you career satisfaction, but the high salary potential of earning a psychology degree is certainly a point in favor of this educational path.
Psychologists earn a median salary of $72,580 per year, nearly double the annual wage for all occupations, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Many psychologists earn even more. Industrial organizational psychologists make a median salary of $77,350 per year, the BLS reported. Psychologists in specialties other than clinical, counseling and school psychology earn a median wage of $94,590, according to the BLS. The kinds of psychologists who may make near-six-figure salaries include developmental, forensic and social psychologists.
Another factor that can impact your earning potential with a degree in psychology is your employer. Psychologists that work at a hospital, rather than a school or an outpatient mental health practitioner’s office, earn a median wage of $81,430 annually. If you use your educational background to get a psychologist job within the government, your median salary rises to $90,620.
Even among psychologist roles, the pay rate can vary substantially. The 10 percent of psychologists who earn the most money in the United States make more than $118,310 per year, according to the BLS.
Positive Job Outlook
Psychology isn’t just a well-paid field – it’s also a growing one. Overall, the BLS predicts job opportunities across all occupations to grow by just seven percent over a decade. Even jobs in the social science, which are seeing somewhat better job growth, are anticipated to grow by just 12 percent.
However, the BLS expects jobs for psychologists to grow at a rate it calls “much faster than average” – a whopping 19 percent. The number of opportunities for clinical, counseling and school psychologists, in particular, will rise by 20 percent. Many of these added opportunities will be in settings such as hospitals, schools, social services agencies and mental health centers.
A Wealth of Specialization Options
If you think all psychologist roles are the same, think again. The many different areas of interest within the field of psychology offer candidates plenty of chances to specialize. Whether your interests lie in research, criminal justice, child development or helping people who suffer from mental health disorders, you’ll have the opportunity to focus on the aspect of psychology you’re most excited to explore.
Some of these specializations include:
- Clinical psychology, the practice of diagnosing and treating mental health conditions
- Counseling psychology, the branch of psychology that revolves around understanding and managing the problems people face in their home, work and social lives
- School psychology, the application of psychology to the field of education, including learning and behavioral problems
- Developmental psychology, the study of how human thinking and behavior develops and progresses throughout the lifespan
- Forensic psychology, the application of psychological concepts and research to the legal system in cases involving family law, civil law and criminal justice
- Social psychology, the study of how social interactions between individuals and groups affect thinking and behavior
Even within these roles, psychologists may specialize further. What kinds of disorders will a clinical psychologist treat? What sort of problems might a counseling psychologist have experience handling? Does a developmental psychologist want to focus on child development, or the needs of aging adults? What kind of cases will a forensic psychologist develop expertise in assisting with? It all depends on what the psychology student’s interests are and what steps the student takes to prepare for a career in the field.
Versatile Career Preparation
Psychologist isn’t your only career option when you earn a degree in psychology. Understanding how people think and why they behave in the ways they do is a valuable skill in many occupations and industries. In fact, students who earn an undergraduate degree in psychology but don’t go on to earn a master’s or doctoral degree usually find alternative ways to put their psychology knowledge to work.
Careers in sales, education and business administration are among the most common professional paths for students with a psychology degree, according to the BLS. However, your career options with a psychology background are endless. Do you want to work in public affairs, health, computer programming or biological science? Graduates from bachelor’s in psychology degree programs go on to do all of these things, the American Psychological Association (APA) reported. If you’d like to be a writer, an interviewer, a probations officer or an employment counselor, understanding human thought processes and behavior – by studying the topics in a psychology program – can help you on your way.
What makes a psychology degree so versatile? Graduates come away from their education with excellent skills in problem solving, analyzing and evaluating data, researching information and communicating through writing – skills that are invaluable no matter what industry you turn to for employment. It’s no accident that so many psychology graduates use their education to prepare for a wide range of careers outside the realm of psychology. Many of these students never had plans to be psychologists to begin with, according to the APA. They chose the educational path because they recognized how important the broad skills that come from studying psychology would be to their future success in their desired occupation.
While a background in psychology can prepare you for careers in industries that range from the sciences to the humanities and everything in between, one discipline that finds knowledge of psychology especially useful is business. Nearly every aspect of business requires workers to make decisions about – or take action based on – human thinking and behavior.
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To develop a product or service that will sell, business professionals need to understand what consumers want. To make money off of the item or services, they need to understand what price customers will be willing to pay, how to market those offerings to the right consumers and how to effectively lead customers through the sales funnel.
Managers and administrative support professionals need to know how to interact with employees to lead the organization successfully. Developing and implementing workplace policies and a culture that contributes to efficiency and productivity means understanding how to shape employees’ thinking processes and behavior. The most successful business leaders know what steps to take and decisions to make to positively influence employee morale and improve work habits.
If you’re interested in business and psychology, one career that may be of particular interest to you is industrial-organizational psychologist. These professionals use the psychology concepts and research methods they learned from their psychology education to solve problems that arise in the business world. Industrial-organizational psychologists address issues that range from employee screening to management styles and policy planning.
Like many careers in the field of business, this role can be lucrative. In fact, the BLS lists industrial-organizational psychologist among the highest paying business careers. The highest paid 10 percent of industrial-organizational psychologists earn $158,990 per year.
The Chance to Be Your Own Boss
Have you dreamed of being an entrepreneur – of making the rules and calling the shots? With a psychology degree, you can make the dream of self-employment come true. Almost one-third of all psychologists are self-employed, the BLS reported. So are many workers in fields such as business, counseling and other occupations that you can enter with a psychology degree.
Being an entrepreneur isn’t for everybody, and self-employment isn’t always easy. However, a background in psychology can equip you with the skills you need to make it work – such as how to find and analyze relevant data and how to interact with customers, clients and employees in order to get them to behave in ways that benefit your business efforts.
An Opportunity to Make a Difference
Many psychology graduates who go into careers in clinical or counseling psychology do so for one reason – to help people. They want to make a difference in the lives of people who are struggling with a mental or behavioral health condition or with a problem that consumes their personal, professional or social lives.
A few of the concerns that clinical and counseling psychologists can help with include:
- Developmental disorders
- Eating disorders
- Personality disorders
- Learning disabilities
- Substance abuse issues
- Life changes and transitions
- Difficulties adjusting to changes at work and school
- Marriage and family problems
Some clinical and counseling psychologists get involved in their respective fields because they have personal experience coping with mental health issues or with difficult life changes. Others choose to get involved because they see how significantly these conditions and situations can affect a person’s life. Either way, what many clinical and counseling psychologists have in common is that desire to help others.
A World of Research Opportunities
If you have a strong thirst for knowledge, a career in psychological research might fit your curious nature perfectly. As much as we know about human behavior, there’s still quite a bit we don’t know. Researchers in the field of psychology are constantly investigating psychological phenomena. The data these researchers obtain from conducting surveys and experiments adds to the ever-evolving body of knowledge that informs psychological principles and practices.
As a unique field of study, psychology has only existed since around the late 1800s. That’s far less time than some of the natural and life sciences, like chemistry, physics and biology, whose roots go back hundreds or thousands of years. Many experts still consider psychology a relatively young science, and the opportunities for research are plentiful even today.
Some of the subjects modern research psychologists are currently studying include:
- Adolescent behavior
- Problem-solving skills
- Social communication signals
- The effect of diet on the brain
- Environmental factors that affect behavior
- The development, diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions
Whether you’re interested in the differences in thought patterns and behaviors between the sexes, how sensory information influences learning and behavior or the benefits of playing video games, there’s plenty of psychological research left to do.
Expanded Soft Skills
Not everything you learn in psychology is about theories and research methodology. A major hidden benefit of a degree in psychology is learning soft skills. These versatile skills include how to learn, think and communicate.
Critical thinking is one of the most important skills you can learn from studying psychology, according to Psychology Today. As you explore the concepts, theories and methods employed in the field of psychology, you will get plenty of practice in thinking about the information you learn. You will develop the analytical skills to evaluate not just whether the information is true, but also the reasons why the phenomenon progresses the way it does. The critical thinking skills you learn by studying psychology are important if you want to work in law or business – or even for the sake of becoming an educated and well-informed person, Psychology Today reported.
Of course, you will also learn other important skills from studying psychology. You will become familiar with research processes, so that you know how to go about finding accurate and reliable information on any topic. You will learn effective ways of communicating through writing, a skill that matters regardless of whether the message you’re sending involves research findings or corporate policy memos. From studying statistics and the scientific method, you will be able to understand fundamental concepts of science – a valuable asset that, unfortunately, not every college graduate develops.
Earning a psychology degree can come in handy in your personal life as well as your professional life. We all form interpersonal relationships with our family members, colleagues, people in our social circles and even pets. These relationships don’t always go smoothly.
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When a psychology graduate encounters a problem in a relationship with a parent, child, sibling, romantic partner, coworker or neighbor, he or she has an advantage. A psychology degree program teaches students about the thoughts and feelings that drive behavior. When you have studied psychology, you can apply those concepts and theories to your own life.
Why did an event lead to a disagreement or dispute? What could cause someone in your relationship to change their behavior? Your psychology background can help you understand what the other person might be thinking or feeling. You can use this understanding to address an interpersonal problem yourself. If necessary, you will know from having studied psychology where to begin looking for outside help in the form of counseling or psychotherapy, according to Psychology Today
Earning a Psychology Degree
With so many reasons to study psychology, it’s no wonder that the field has consistently been one of the most popular undergraduate majors in the United States. Around 117,000 students graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology annually, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. Yet, with the rapid increase in job opportunities expected for psychologists and the wide variety of career paths available outside of psychology, you won’t have to worry that the field is oversaturated. The broad nature of a degree in psychology and the versatile skills students gain from studying the discipline offer plenty of freedom and flexibility to graduates in search of a career.
If you think a degree in psychology is the right choice for you, be prepared to take coursework in research methodology and statistics as well as many kinds of psychology. The core courses of an undergraduate psychology degree program often include topics such as abnormal psychology, developmental psychology, intercultural psychology and physiological psychology, according to U.S. News & World Report. Even as an undergraduate student, you may have the option to specialize in a niche such as addiction, criminal justice, child and adolescent psychology, applied psychology and business and workplace psychology. Often, you will spend at least some time gaining hands-on experience in psychology through a practicum or internship experience.
In some instances, you might want to continue your psychology education beyond the bachelor’s degree. To become a fully license psychologist, you will most likely need to earn a doctoral degree in psychology. Depending on what you want to do with your psychology education, you might choose to pursue the research-based Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree or the professional Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree. For students who want to go into a field like counseling psychology, clinical psychology or industrial/organizational psychology, a master’s-level terminal degree – that is, the highest level of degree available – could be a viable option, as well.