Before you start pursuing a master’s in industrial-organizational psychology, one of the highest-paying master’s degrees, you need to get your bachelor’s degree. Most industrial-organizational psychology master’s degree programs don’t require a specific major, a fact that leaves prospective industrial-organizational psychology students confused about what major they should choose. Although there’s no “wrong” major that will keep you out of graduate school, there are options that are more relevant to your future study plans than others. Most students who want to become industrial-organizational psychologists major in psychology, business or interdisciplinary industrial-organizational psychology as undergraduates.
If you want to work in any area of psychology, an undergraduate degree in psychology is a good place to start. You can think of psychology as the scientific study of the mind, thought and behavior. While the daily job duties of industrial-organizational psychologists may seem very different from those of clinical, counseling or school psychologists, their work is still based on the same concepts and principles of psychology.
Most undergraduate psychology programs start with coursework in general or introductory psychology. You might also study the history of the field and methods of psychology. The study of personality falls under the umbrella of psychology, as does human development, also called developmental psychology. Many bachelor’s in psychology programs include classes like abnormal psychology, social psychology, cognitive psychology and physiological psychology. Students learn about methods of psychological assessment as well as the psychological principles underlying the process of learning information. Undergraduate psychology programs also equip students for work in a research capacity through classes in experimental psychology, psychological research, statistics and data analysis.
Besides giving you a strong foundation in the theories and practice of psychology, majoring in psychology as an undergraduate can help you meet the modest but important course prerequisites, like introductory psychology and statistics, found in a master’s program.
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Although an undergraduate background in psychology is the most popular choice for aspiring industrial-organizational psychologists, it’s not the only option. Since industrial-organizational psychologists work in businesses and other work-related organizations, acquiring a background in business makes perfect sense. In the future, when you go into a workplace in the role of industrial-organizational psychologist, having a background in business will help you understand the perspective of the organization’s managers and administrative team.
Business administration is a broad major that, generally, encompasses study in each of the different areas of business. Most business administration majors will take classes in accounting, finance, management, organizational behavior, operations management, human resources, business strategy, marketing, logistics, business law and more. Learning a little bit of everything as an undergraduate student provides you with a big-picture understanding of work in the corporate world.
Students who want to focus more on one area of interest within business can choose a more specialized major. For example, if you primarily want to help companies with employee recruitment, training and motivation, majoring in human resources might make sense. If you’re more interested in streamlining processes, perhaps you want to major in supply chain management.
Students in a business administration program can choose to pursue a concentration in one of many different specializations within business or opt to keep your curriculum general and versatile.
Bachelor’s in Industrial-Organizational Psychology Programs
There actually are bachelor’s degree programs in industrial-organizational psychology. Naturally, an undergraduate degree in industrial-organizational psychology is relevant to your career intentions, but these programs are much harder to find than general psychology or business programs.
When you major in industrial-organizational psychology as an undergraduate, you take courses in a blend of disciplines. Psychology classes will likely include introduction to psychology, social psychology, cognitive psychology, personality, statistics for psychology and psychological tests and measurements. Courses specific to business include management principles, business finance and financial accounting.
What makes an industrial-organizational psychology curriculum different from simply double-majoring in psychology and business is the specialized industrial and organizational coursework that builds on the foundations of both of these disciplines. For example, you will probably encounter introductory studies in both industrial psychology and organizational psychology as well as coursework in group dynamics and in learning and job training in industry.
A major outside of psychology or business is still acceptable and even helpful. Studying engineering, math or the liberal arts and sciences could provide a basis for graduate study in this field by helping you develop analytical, critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.