Students often ask the question "What can I do with a psychology degree?" After receiving your bachelor's degree in psychology, you have two general options: you may choose to go to graduate school or you may enter the job market directly.
Graduate Study in Psychology
An undergraduate degree provides you with some psychological skills and knowledge, but it will not make you a professional "Psychologist." Similar to physicians whose undergraduate study of biology and chemistry prepares them for medical school but does not make them doctors, your undergraduate training provides a basis for further study. You need to continue on to graduate school for further training to become a professional Psychologist.
At the graduate school level, you will specialize in a specific area of psychology. About forty percent of the North Central students who major in psychology eventually pursue graduate degrees in one of these specialty areas. Among others, these include social, experimental, developmental, clinical, counseling, cognitive, physiological, industrial-organizational, and school psychology. Approximately 10% of our majors complete Ph.D. degrees and 30% complete master's degrees. These individuals are then employed as teachers and researchers in colleges and universities, as researchers and consultants in business, government, and medicine, or as therapists in private practice or hospital, school, and community mental health settings.
Career Options with an Undergraduate Degree in Psychology
Most psychology majors do not go on to graduate or professional schools. About 60% of North Central psychology graduates do not pursue advanced degrees, but enter the job market directly. What sorts of jobs are open to them?
Human Service Jobs at the Undergraduate Level. About 30% of North Central College psychology graduates enter human service fields, working as counselors in such settings as group homes for troubled adolescents, schools for emotionally disturbed children, and psychiatric hospital wards. You might be surprised to learn that paraprofessional positions filled by individuals with bachelor's degrees in psychology often involve the greatest degree of direct contact with people in need. For example, the counselors at a home for battered women or crisis center will often have bachelor's degrees and spend the majority of their time directly answering crisis telephone calls, counseling women who come to the shelter, and helping people locate other kinds of help they might need, such as advocacy services.
Business Careers at the Undergraduate Level. The remaining psychology majors at North Central pursue business careers in management, personnel, or public relations, often combining their psychology major with courses from business or communication studies. Some of the positions open to these graduates are research-oriented, such as marketing analysis or research on highway safety. Other postitions, such as personnel work and management-trainee positions, emphasize knowledge about assessment, human motivation, and the effects of different organizational structures on workers.
For More Information or Careers in Psychology. Please keep in mind that there are many things you can do with a degree in psychology. If you want additional information, arrange an appointment with a member of the Psychology Department or visit the North Central College Career Center.
HOW CAN I DECIDE WHICH DIRECTION TO TAKE?
The "good news" is that many of the courses recommended for the three areas of Research/Graduate School, Human Services, and Industrial Psychology overlap. This means that initially you can concentrate on the courses that are required for the major regardless of which track you eventually follow. The various tracks involve a similar course of studies through your sophomore year.
At that point, you do need to make some decisions in order to choose the best possible courses to prepare for your future. You may have noticed that the advice given above about which "track" of studies to emphasize within the psychology major included the caveat: "If you do not plan to pursue graduate studies..." As this suggests, one of the first questions psychology students need to answer is: Do I want to go on to graduate school? If not, what kind of work do I want to do?
Searching for Answers
One way to begin to answer these questions is to explore the different areas of psychology. The major areas in psychology are represented in the topics covered in the introductory psychology course. Ask yourself which chapters in that class most intrigued you. It will also help if you sample a variety of courses early in your studies.
Learn More About Graduate School and Career Options
The American Psychological Association (APA) publishes a number of documents helpful to students, including the booklet "Careers in Psychology" which you can borrow from faculty members in the Psychology Department or order for yourself. A second reference which is especially helpful in describing jobs at the bachelor's degree level in psychology is "Is Psychology the Major for You?" References to these and other helpful publications, along with information about where you can find them, can be found in Appendix A of the Majoring in Psychology Handbook. There are also many sites on the internet that can help you explore these issues.
Plan An Independent Study or Internship As Part of Your Major
Independent Studies. In an independent study, students plan and carry out a study in an area of their choice or conduct library research on a topic of interest to them. For example, one student tested subjects to see how anxiety affected their performance on a memory task. Another student reviewed the research related to the treatment of sexually abused children and interviewed therapists working with victims of abuse. Usually the credit earned for an independent study is the equivalent of one course in psychology. As the name suggests, independent studies are planned by students but conducted under the direction of a faculty member who meets regularly with the student to discuss the work in progress. Because of the background required for independent studies, students are ordinarily in their junior year and have completed Statistics and Research Design and Experimentation classes before doing an independent study.
Internships. An internship involves working on-site to gain hands-on pre-professional experience in clinical or industrial psychology. Many different clinical internships are available, including work with emotionally disturbed children, troubled adolescents, and mentally ill adults. Industrial psychology internships involve projects such as working in a personnel office or designing an employee questionnaire to be used in a firm. In an internship, you usually spend about 25 hours per week at the internship site and another 5 hours per week working on the internship paper. Thus, the credit earned for internships is usually equivalent to two courses in psychology. Student interns meet weekly with their "on-site" supervisors as well as with a faculty member in the department who supervises their work. Because of the background required for internships, students are usually in their junior year and have completed course work related to the internship.
Independent studies and internships can help you make decisions about your career direction, as well as providing valuable experience.
Talk To A Member of the Psychology Department
The various booklets and resources mentioned above provide a good starting place to seek information. But after you have studied these materials, you will undoubtedly still have questions. Faculty in the Department are available to answer your questions and help you think through decisions about your major in psychology. If you are interested in pursuing a psychology major, you can also request an academic advisor who is a member of the Psychology Department. This person can then help you schedule your classes in a way that provides a strong background in psychology tailored to your interests.