Psychology is a consistently popular college major. As the study of thought and behavior, the field appeals both to students with an analytical, scientific mind and those with strong social and people skills. Although an undergraduate degree alone doesn’t qualify students to become psychologists – that position requires a master’s or doctoral degree, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) – it is excellent preparation for many diverse career paths. Psychology equips students with versatile skills, including observational and analytical skills, interpersonal and communication skills and problem-solving skills, all of which are valuable in nearly any industry and job function. If you are interested in studying psychology, it is important to know what you are getting into curriculum-wise. Research is an important part of the field of psychology, so students should expect to take math classes and classes that build on mathematical and statistical knowledge throughout their undergraduate and graduate curriculum.
Undergraduate Coursework in Psychology
At the undergraduate level, studying psychology often starts with completing your general education requirements. This is where students get their first exposure to college-level math courses. An introductory or applied math course is often sufficient for students in degree programs that aren’t math-intensive to fulfill their general education requirements and provide a foundation for future math-related courses. In addition to this mandatory math course, general education requirements usually include studies in composition, public speaking, laboratory sciences and the humanities. Although general education courses can take you out of your comfort zone, they allow students to become educated on a wide variety of topics and to learn important skills that their major program of study might not address.
As part of their major, psychology students take several courses that include a math or statistics component. Classes in psychological research include studies of the scientific method, research methodologies and evaluation of data. Some colleges require psychology students to take a separate course in statistics that teaches the concepts, techniques and tools used for statistical analysis of data. As technology continues to involve and take on a bigger role in a wide array of career fields, psychology students may also take courses dedicated to analyzing data with the use of computer software. Students who are interested in psychological research may find themselves taking more math-related courses, or simply apply mathematical and statistical concepts to their research courses and experiential work.
Because psychology combines elements of both social and natural sciences, some psychology programs award Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degrees and others award Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degrees. B.S. degrees often include more math and science coursework.
Math in Master’s and Doctoral Psychology Programs
While there are some careers you can get with only a bachelor’s degree in psychology, these jobs are often found in fields other than psychology. If you want to be a licensed psychologist, you will need an advanced education.
Master’s degree programs are common in fields like school psychology and industrial-organizational psychology, according to the BLS. In a master’s in school psychology program, you might find statistics- and math-related classes such as cognitive assessment, psychometrics, and research design and data analysis methods specific to the field of school psychology. For students of industrial-organizational psychology, the field of psychology that focuses on using psychological research and concepts to solve workplace and productivity issues, math-related courses might include research methods in psychology and quantitative and statistical methods.
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If you want to work in clinical or counseling psychology or in psychological research, you will need a doctorate degree. Traditionally, the Ph.D. in Psychology is the research-focused degree, while the Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) is a professional degree, the BLS reported. A Ph.D. program is likely to include more math and statistics coursework than a Psy.D. program. Ph.D. students might study Multivariate Analysis in Psychology, Intermediate Quantitative Methods, Psychometric Theory and Psychotherapy Research. In conducting original research, students will have to apply their quantitative and analytical skills to the work of understanding and interpreting their findings. Psy.D. students also take courses in research methods, but they devote more of their studies to the skills used in counseling or clinical practice, including psychotherapy methods, personality assessments and opportunities to gain hands-on experience.
More than 88 percent of psychologists work in clinical, counseling and school psychology, the BLS reported. Industrial-organizational psychologists account for about one percent of jobs. The 10 percent of psychologists in other fields earn the highest median wage, $100,770.