Many high school and college students find psychology – the social science that deals with human thought and behavior – to be an intriguing field of study. If you’re considering majoring in psychology, there are steps you can take early on in your high school career that will help you in college and beyond. By choosing the right classes, particularly those in the life and natural sciences, mathematics and the social sciences, during high school, you are building yourself a foundation that will be valuable once you begin college. Volunteering can help you gain experience working with and helping troubled peers or community members facing mental health issues. High school is also a good time to begin planning for life after your undergraduate studies, whether that includes graduate school or taking using your understanding of psychology to work in a different field.
Take Science, Statistics and Social Studies Courses
Which high school classes should an aspiring psychology major take? You might be surprised to hear that coursework in science, mathematics and statistics is particularly valuable to future psychology students. Psychology principles and research are based on the scientific method, so having a background in studying science is helpful for understanding how to do research and experiments. Statistics, calculus and other quantitative fields of study are valuable for the same reason. Students use their knowledge of math and statistics to interpret and evaluate the results of research in psychology.
Despite its foundation in the scientific method, psychology is a social science, and it has a lot in common with other social science disciplines. Students can often begin taking classes in psychology and sociology during high school. If your high school offers classes in anthropology, child development and economics, these courses, too, can help you develop a breadth of knowledge in the social sciences.
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Many high schools offer advanced placement (AP) courses in psychology. The benefits of taking AP classes include learning in an environment similar to that of a real college course and potentially having the chance to earn college credit even before graduating high school.
Undergraduate psychology degrees may be Bachelor of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Arts (BA) programs. Generally, BS degrees emphasize research, science, statistics and psychology coursework, while BA degrees allow for more studies in other disciplines.
Volunteer Outside the Classroom
Formal studies aren’t the only way to gain an education during high school. Students can learn valuable skills and life lessons outside the classroom, through extracurricular activities and volunteer experience in their community.
One way to begin gaining experience in psychology, especially if you have an interest in counseling psychology, is through peer counseling. Peer counselors are high school students who undergo training that allows them to help fellow students talk about their problems and find resources to help. While a peer counselor is no substitute for therapy or medication for mental illness, this role gives you a rewarding opportunity to help your peers with issues when they just need someone to listen and understand as well as to help them get help for more serious mental health concerns.
Volunteering in mental health facilities is another option, one that may be ideal for aspiring clinical psychologists. Hospitals and clinics are often looking for volunteers that can assist with administrative functions, community education and outreach functions and client-contact functions.
In addition to helping you gain valuable career-related experience, volunteering can also help you get into your top-choice schools. More than half of college admissions personnel surveyed agreed that community service affects acceptance, according to Forbes.
Think About Life After a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology
Earning your bachelor’s degree is undoubtedly a big achievement, but it is also one milestone along the path to a more distant destination: your career. For psychology majors, in particular, it’s important to begin thinking about your future beyond the bachelor’s degree as early as possible.
Many undergraduate psychology majors don’t go on to work in the field of psychology, according to the American Psychological Association. Instead, they use the skills they developed by studying psychology – including skills in research, writing, analyzing data and solving problems – in occupations in fields like education, business, sales, health and biological sciences, public affairs and administrative support.
If you want to become a psychologist, you will need to go to graduate school. A doctoral degree, such as a Ph.D. in psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.), is the typical education required for clinical, research and counseling psychologists, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). You can also use an undergraduate background in psychology to earn a master’s degree in counseling, marriage and family therapy, school psychology or industrial-organizational psychology.
Psychology jobs without a graduate degree may include research lab manager, behavioral health technician, research assistant, research analyst and research coordinator.