10 Psychology Courses Students Should Take

Psychology Courses Typically Required by Colleges and Universities

As a psychology student, you will need to take a number of courses that focus on the science of human behavior. Your goal as a student is to not only to fulfill the course requirements of your program department, but to also develop critical thinking skills, research competence, and in-depth knowledge of psychology that will serve you well as you advance in your academic and career pursuits.

The following are some of the top courses you should consider when selecting classes to take as an undergraduate psychology major.

1
General Psychology

Stack of psychology books
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This introductory course offers an overview of the entire field of psychology. It may seem overwhelming at first, due to the sheer volume of information contained within the class, but this important class lays the groundwork for your future studies.

Remember, however, that the goal of this class is to provide an introduction to the history of psychology and the scientific study of the human mind and behavior. While it may seem like you are skimming over huge topics, you'll be able to delve deeper into these subjects in later courses.

2
History of Psychology

In order to understand contemporary psychology, it is important to look back at the origins and influences on this science. Courses on the history of psychology generally begin with the subject's ancient philosophical origins and explore the contributions of major thinkers up through the modern-day.

3
Statistics

Statistics courses are a must for any psychology major, whether or not you plan to pursue a graduate degree later on. Statistics offers a core background for understanding how psychologists investigate human behavior.

This course generally focuses on statistical methods and techniques used by researchers. According to one survey, 85 percent of psychology graduate programs require at least one undergraduate course in statistics in order to gain admission to the program.

4
Experimental Psychology

A course in experimental psychology is an essential foundation for any psychology major. In this course, you will learn about basic research methods and experimental designs. While course requirements may vary from one school to the next, most experimental psychology courses require students to perform experiments.

5
Physiological Psychology

In order to form a full understanding of the mind and behavior, it is important to develop your knowledge of the brain, neural actions, sensation and perception, basic neuroanatomy, and physiological processes. A course in physiological psychology serves as a good introduction to the field of neuropsychology, although it may be listed under an alternate course title such as behavioral neuroscience, biopsychology or biological psychology.

6
Cognitive Psychology

In this course, you will learn more about the cognitive process that forms the foundation of human behavior. Cognitive psychology involves the study of internal mental processes—all of the things that go on inside your brain, including perception, thinking, memory, attention, language, problem solving, and learning.

7
Abnormal Psychology

Courses in abnormal psychology focus on the biological, environmental, and cultural influences on abnormal behavior. Some of the topics studied in this course might include mood disorders, personality disorders, psychosomatic disorders, and substance abuse. In addition to exploring the background, assessment and diagnosis of these disorders, students also explore some of the available treatment approaches.

8
Developmental Psychology

Developmental psychology courses study the course of human development from conception throughout the lifespan. In some cases, students may opt to take an encompassing course that provides an overview of development through life or choose to take a course that focuses primarily on child development.

Developmental psychology courses generally look at developmental changes in biological, emotional and cognitive domains, as well as looking at how factors such as family, school, peers, and culture impact this growth.

9
Social Psychology

Social psychology courses are focused on the scientific study of social influences on behavior and the interaction between individuals and groups. Topics studied in this class include such things as social pressure, leadership, nonverbal communication, persuasion, obedience, and the bystander effect.

Social psychologists are interested in the impact that the social environment and group interactions have on attitudes and behaviors.

While there are many similarities to sociology, social psychology tends to look at social behavior and influences at a very broad-based level. Sociologists are interested in the institutions and cultures that influence how people behave. Psychologists instead focus on situational variables that affect social behavior. 

10
Personality Psychology

A course in personality psychology offers a solid background in the numerous theories of personality development, including Freudian, psychosocial, behavioral, humanistic, and existential theories.

This area of psychology seeks to understand personality and how it varies among individuals as well as how people are similar. Psychologists also assess, diagnose, and treat personality disorders that can interfere with day-to-day life.

11
Which Psychology Courses Do Graduate Programs Require?

Are you a psychology major with plans to go to graduate school? If a grad degree in psychology is in your future, then now is the time to start thinking about the courses you need to take.

Most programs have certain requirements and prerequisites that must be met before a student can begin a graduate degree in psychology.

Which Undergraduate Psychology Courses Do You Need?

If you're planning to study psychology at the graduate level, it is important to select undergraduate courses that will prepare you for further study in psychology.

An article published in the journal American Psychologist looked at graduate admission requirements provided by 2,023 graduate psychology programs in both the United States and Canada. The results describe the prerequisite courses most often required by psychology graduate programs.

Top 5 Required Courses

1. Statistics

Over 85 percent of schools surveyed require or prefer that applicants have taken at least one course in statistics. Having a solid background in statistics will allow you to make better sense of the research you will encounter in graduate school.

In many cases, you will even be conducting your own research, so being able to understand and perform statistical analysis is essential for success in a graduate program.

2. Experimental Methods/Research Design

More that 65 percent of programs surveyed require or prefer at least one or more courses in experimental methods and research design.

The amount of research you will be doing in graduate school depends a great deal on the type of program in which you enroll. PhD programs tend to focus more on research, while PsyD programs concentrate more on professional practice. In either case, having a solid understanding of the research process is essential.

3. Abnormal Psychology

Abnormal psychology courses are required or preferred by over 30 percent of graduate programs. Even if you do not plan to work in mental health, understanding abnormal behaviors, psychological disorders and treatment options can provide a richer perspective on human psychology.

4. Developmental Psychology/Child Development

Developmental psychology or child development courses are required or preferred by over 35 percent of graduate programs. Such courses can help prepare students for careers as clinical psychologists, school psychologists and other areas, as well as providing a deeper look into how children develop and how people grow over the course of a lifetime.

5. Personality Psychology

Courses in personality psychology are required or preferred by over 25 percent of graduate programs. Such classes explore topics such as theories of personality and the many influences that impact personality development.

Other Important Courses

Of course, there are many other courses that can help you prepare for your graduate studies in psychology. The following are just a few of the classes that you might want to consider taking.

  • Cognitive Psychology
  • History of Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Psychological Testing and Measurement
  • Psychology of Learning
  • Sensation and Perception
  • Physiological Psychology

The courses above offer a glimpse of which classes you should take as an undergraduate student. If you are preparing for graduate school, be sure to check the specific admission requirements of your chosen school. In addition to the appropriate coursework, most graduate programs also require applicants to take the GRE.

In addition to these core psychology courses, you might also want to consider taking courses in courses in public speaking and communications, writing, biology, math, and advanced statistics.

12
Which Psychology Electives Should You Take?

Beyond the general education and departmental requirements, you can then take elective courses based on your interests. Most psychology programs also require a minimum number of psychology electives in order to graduate.

During your first year or two of college, you should concentrate on taking the required general education and major classes. If you end up filling your schedule with elective courses during the early years of your college education, you may find yourself scrambling to play catch up during your junior and senior year.

By saving most of your electives for the third and fourth year, you'll be able to enjoy some fun and interesting courses when many of your required program courses are starting to get tougher and more challenging.

Electives for Psychology Majors

Many students choose to take elective courses that are related to their future career goals. For example, a student with an interest in consumer psychology might focus on electives in areas like marketing, advertising, social psychology, experimental design, and statistics.

Other students might opt to take some elective courses in psychology along with classes in other interest areas. For example, a student interested in pursuing a career in art therapy might take fine arts classes as part of her undergraduate electives.

Some of the electives that might be of interest to psychology majors include courses in:

  • Sociology
  • Public affairs
  • Social work
  • Anthropology
  • Communications
  • Criminal justice
  • Biology
  • Health sciences
  • History
  • English composition
  • Statistics
  • Political science
  • Philosophy

As you choose electives, think about how these courses relate to your career goals. If you plan on being a research psychologist, classes in statistics, writing and research methods would prove particularly useful. On the other hand, if you are thinking of a career in mental health, courses in biology and health sciences might be the most beneficial.

Talk to Your Advisor

Whether you are earning a BA or BS in psychology, selecting the classes that are right for your academic plan is important. This is why it is so important to talk to your academic advisor. Your advisor can inform you about specific university requirements as well as make additional suggestions based on your major, interests, and goals.

A good idea is to make a four-year academic plan outlining the courses that you would like to take each semester. This not only ensures that you meet all of the requirements of your degree program, it also allows you to see where you can schedule in elective courses.

A Word From Verywell

College is a time to prepare for your future and explore your academic interests. Consider your future plans when picking classes. If you are thinking that you might want to go to graduate school, research which classes you will probably need to take in order to apply to these programs. Taking a hard look at the different classes you will need now and in the future may help you determine if going to graduate school in psychology is the right choice for you.

While you should certainly focus on your core courses first and foremost, you should plan on scheduling at least a few elective courses in order to get the minimum credits needed to graduate. Elective courses are an excellent way to learn more about new subjects and broaden your education, so spend some time browsing through your school's course catalog to familiarize yourself with what is available.

Sources:

Davis, SF, Giordano, PJ, & Licht, CA. Your Career in Psychology: Putting Your Graduate Degree to Work. New York: John Wiley & Sons; 2009.

Kuther, TL. The Psychology Major's Handbook. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning; 2016.

Norcross, JC & Sayette, MA. An Insider's Guide to Graduate Programs in Clinical and Counseling Psychology: 2016/2017 Edition. New York: The Guilford Press; 2016.

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