Psychology

Career Paths in Psychology

An Overview of Psychology Careers

Careers in psychology tend to be quite diverse and job options depend primarily on factors such as the type of degree held, years of experience, and specialty area of choice. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, psychology ranks as the fourth most popular college major in the United States. But, exactly what types of psychology careers are available to these psychology grads?

While options tend to be more limited for those holding an undergraduate degree in psychology, there are a number of different entry-level job options available. Those who continue on to earn a master's or doctorate in psychology will find more career options, higher salaries, and stronger advancement opportunities.

Entry-Level

An undergraduate degree in psychology can serve as a great foundation for further study in the subject.

But as many as 75 percent of all students who earn a bachelor's never continue on to graduate school.

The U.S. Department of Labor reports that jobs tend to be much more limited at this level, but there are still some options. Common job titles for bachelor's degree-holders include psychiatric technician, case manager, and rehabilitation specialist. Some may find positions in different fields such as management, sales, human resources, and marketing.​ Other job titles that might be an option solely with a bachlor's degree include:

  • Child Care Worker
  • College Recruiter or Admissions Counselor
  • Correctional Treatment Specialist
  • Financial Aid Counselor
  • Probation Officer
  • Research Assistant
  • Youth Counselor

Graduate Degree

There are many different subfields of psychology and various types of psychologists. Some people choose to focus on health-related careers that are centered on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illness.

These psychologists often work in hospitals, mental health clinics, or in private practice and work directly with clients who are experiencing symptoms of psychological or psychiatric disorders. ​Such job titles might include art therapist, child psychologist, clinical psychologist, counseling psychologist, and family and marriage therapist.

In contrast, other psychologists focus mainly on research. They often work on a particular topic such as the brain, memory, attention, and other areas and are frequently employed by universities. In addition to performing research on psychology, they may also teach undergraduate and graduate classes.​ Job titles in this area might include cognitive psychologist, comparative psychologist, experimental psychologist, research psychologist, and social psychologist.

Still other psychologists work in areas that allow them to solve real-world problems. For example, they might design workspaces in order to maximize safety and productivity or work in legal settings to evaluate criminal suspects. A few job titles in this area include aviation psychologist, forensic psychologist, human factors psychologist, and military psychologist.

Job Outlook

Every year, the U.S. Department of Labor publishes their Occupational Outlook Handbook which includes projected job growth or loss for various professions over the coming years. According to them, psychology careers are expected to grow at a rate of 19 percent over the coming decade. 

This overall projection is faster than the average for all occupations. Yet, it is important to also note that actual growth in individual specialty areas may vary considerably. For example, due to an increased demand for psychological services in hospitals and schools, the need for clinical psychologists and school psychologists is expected to grow by around 20 percent.

It is also important to consider that factors such as education, training, and experience can also impact the job outlook for individuals working in psychology. Certain professions may grow more competitive. So, those who have advanced degrees in their chosen specialties are more likely to command top positions and higher salaries.

Educational & Training Requirements

If you are thinking about a career in psychology, it is important to first consider your interests and goals. An undergraduate degree in psychology can provide an excellent background for different entry-level jobs. But, you will need to earn a graduate degree in psychology if you are interested in becoming a psychologist.

Spend some time researching your options and investigate graduate programs that will be a good match for your particular interests. While each program may provide a strong background in psychology, each one differs in terms of its scope and focus. You want to find a program that will let you both focus on your specialty area and work in your chosen career once you graduate.

 

Exact educational and training requirements vary depending upon your chosen specialty area. If you want to become a school psychologist, for example, you would need to earn at minimum a master's or educational specialist degree in school psychology—although many may opt to earn a doctorate degree in the subject. Additionally, school psychologists must complete a one-year internship and become licensed to work in their state.

If you are interested in becoming a licensed clinical psychologist instead, then you must complete an accredited doctorate program in clinical psychology, complete an internship, and pass state licensing exams.

8 Careers You Might Consider

  1. School psychologists work in educational settings to help children deal with emotional, academic, and social problems. Thanks to increased interest in the mental health of children and federal education legislation, school psychology has rapidly become one of the fastest growing fields. The demand for qualified school psychologists exceeds the number of candidates available, which means that job opportunities are typically high.​
  2. Counselors help people with a wide variety of problems, including marriage, family, emotional, educational, and substance abuse issues. Nearly half of all counselors work in health care or social welfare settings, while others work for state and local governments. Though requirements vary, almost all states mandate at least a master's degree in order to become a licensed counselor. Typical work settings include K-12 schools, colleges and universities, hospitals, mental health clinics, and private practice.​
  3. Forensic psychologists apply psychology to the fields of criminal investigation and law. This has rapidly become one of the hottest psychology careers thanks to numerous portrayals in popular movies, television programs, and books. While the field may not be as glamorous as it is depicted in the media, forensic psychology is still an exciting career choice with a lot of potential for growth. Forensic psychologists often work in the legal system with other experts to deal with family, civil, or criminal issues. They may be involved in child custody assessments, scrutinize insurance claims, evaluate mental health issues in criminal cases, and provide expert testimony.​
  4. Engineering psychologists use psychology to examine how people interact with machines and other technology. These professionals use their understanding of the human mind and behavior to help design and improve technology, consumer products, work settings, and living environments. For example, an engineering psychologist might work as part of a team to redesign a product to make it more efficient and easier to use in a work situation. Those working in academic settings report the lowest earnings, while others in the private sector report higher salaries.​
  5. Clinical psychology is the single largest employment area within the field of psychology. Clinical psychologists assess, diagnose, and treat people living with psychological or psychiatric disorders. These professionals typically work in hospital settings, mental health clinics, or private practices. In order to become a clinical psychologist, you must have a doctoral-level degree in clinical psychology and most states require a minimum of a one-year internship. Most graduate school programs in clinical psychology are fairly competitive.​
  6. Sports psychologists focus on the psychological aspects of sports and athletics, including topics such as motivation, performance, and injury. The two major areas within sports psychology are centered on helping improve athletic performance and on using sports to improve mental and physical health. Sports psychologists work in a wide variety of settings including universities, hospitals, athletic centers, private consulting practices, and research facilities.​
  7. Industrial-organizational (I-O) psychologists focus on workplace behavior, often using psychological principles to increase worker productivity and to select employees that are best-suited for particular jobs. There are several different specialty areas within industrial-organizational psychology. For example, some I-O psychologists train and assess employees and others evaluate job candidates. While there are some employment opportunities at the master's degree level, those with a doctoral degree in industrial-organizational psychology are in greater demand and command significantly higher salaries.​
  8. Health psychologists are interested in how mental, emotional, and social factors influence health and illness. They often work in hospital or government settings to help promote healthy behaviors and prevent illness. For example, they may research the causes of health problems, administer community health programs, and help people choose healthy behaviors.

A Word From Verywell

Psychology is an incredibly diverse field and careers can range from those that focus on mental health to those centered on research. People who are interested in a psychology career should spend time carefully researching their options in order to determine which specialty area is right for their needs, interests, and goals.

Sources

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2016). Digest of Education Statistics, 2014 (NCES 2016-006) Chapter 3.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Psychologists. 

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