Psychology is a hugely popular degree field, and for good reason: Psychology majors are uniquely poised to enter a wide variety of professions after the graduate with a bachelor’s degree in hand. In fact, while some choose to pursue a career in psychology by obtaining a master’s or doctoral degree, the majority of students who leave college with their bachelor’s choose to enter into a profession other than psychology, but one that makes good use of their skills and knowledge learned.
The Popularity of the Bachelor’s in Psychology
Since 1950, the number of students studying psychology at all levels has steadily risen. This rise has been most pronounced for those obtaining a bachelor’s level degree.
Approximately 10,000 psychology bachelor’s degrees were awarded.
The number of psychology bachelor’s degrees awarded soared to was 109,000
psychology remains one of the most popular undergraduate majors across college campuses nationwide.
The graphic below illustrates how common it is for psychology bachelor’s degree holders to choose an educational and career path that does not include graduate studies in psychology.
Interview with a Psych Grad
Dan Clasen, a marketing coordinator with EvenVision, graduated in May 2015 with a degree in psychology and a degree in marketing from Humboldt State University. Here is how his psychology degree took him down the path to marketing.
What led you to pursue the bachelor’s degree in psychology?
To be honest, it was a lack of direction and a presence of interest. I didn’t know what I wanted to do and by my second year, there was pressure to declare a major. After taking an introductory college psych class, I decided — in a rather unoriginal manner — that human behavior was fascinating (and on some level probably I wanted to “learn about myself”).
Your psychology coursework led you to declare an additional major in marketing. How did that happen?
While I immensely enjoyed the classes, I soon realized that I still had no concrete idea of what I would do with my psychology degree. Considering my lack of interest in counseling or abnormal behavior, I didn’t plan on going into the medical or therapy field. The most exciting classes I took all revolved around social and behavioral psychology. In social psychology I did a presentation about Robert Cialdini’s work on Persuasion and Influence which lead me to explore HSU’s business department. I met with one of the marketing professors and found out that he personally had a PhD in Social Psychology which had then lead him to immense amounts of marketing consultation experience. I then declared a business administration degree with an emphasis in marketing and began taking classes. I found that my background in psych classes was a huge help for understanding the strategy behind consumer behavior theory and marketing communications.
Tell us a bit about the job you currently hold. How does your psychology degree come in handy?
Fairly quickly after graduating, my marketing advisor (the one with the social psych PhD) forwarded me a job opportunity with an Arcata-based digital marketing firm named EvenVision. I then interviewed with the business owner, Garrett Perks. I think that my experience with psychology and marketing immediately worked to give me an edge in the interview. My interest and experience with marketing strategy sets an incredibly strong foundation to build upon. While I didn’t have as much experience or practice with social media campaigns, email blasts, or other common industry practices, my interest in and experience with strategic marketing put me in a position to help the client understand who their target demographic currently was and more importantly who it should be.
Do you have any advice to share for students who are considering a psychology bachelor’s program?
Know what you want to do with the degree. Getting halfway through a degree and still not knowing how you’re going to apply it can cause a lot of stress. Learning what you can potentially do with the degree is vastly important for deciding what you want. A lot of potential careers are simply not on the radar of somebody starting a degree.
The benefit of a psych program is that, in my opinion, it’s unbelievably flexible. A psych degree can supplement any number of other career paths or even other degrees. A psych undergrad could harness that experience to excel in anything from environmental politics to IT user interface design. Psychology is about understanding people, so pretty much any job that works with people can benefit from psychology. I think we are moving towards a climate that is more about the individual customer experience and to understand the individual, you need psychology (not everything works for everyone. Individual tailoring can be a huge competitive edge).
Figure out a way to make psychology fit your passion and begin with that in mind. While it’s silly, financially prohibitive, and most people don’t have the privilege — I’m of the firmly whimsical opinion that everybody could benefit from a good undergrad degree in psychology.
Why Major in Psychology? 5 Reasons
Why is a degree in psychology so popular? There are several reasons why students opt to enter this fast-growing degree field:
Fascination with the subject
Studying a topic that covers human behavior is intrinsically interesting to many students. The psychology major can help students learn more about themselves and their relationships.
The desire to help people
Most people like the idea of being able to help others and many students seek the psychology major as taking a first step in providing that help, whether they become a counselor, therapist or social worker
Development of a wide range of useful skills
Psychology is a science, but it also has liberal arts elements. This means psychology graduates will develop critical thinking, research, analytical, interpersonal and project management skills that will be useful in a wide range of careers
Flexibility of the degree
Graduates with psychology degrees are not pigeon-holed into a given career path upon graduation. Most bachelor’s degree graduates usually enter a field that is not psychology related, such as education, research, business, politics or marketing.
Belief that the degree is easy
While not necessarily true, there is at least a slight perception that getting a good GPA as a psychology major is easier than other majors. Even if this perception is true, the amount of grade inflation and academic rigor is more dependent on the school offering major rather than the major itself.
Psych Major Skill Set for Success
Besides the inherently interesting nature of the degree, majoring in psychology provides a diverse and well-rounded education that many other degrees cannot offer. A bachelor’s degree in psychology requires provides both a liberal arts and analytical level of educational training. For example, a student who majors in psychology may obtain the following skills and attributes which employers will be looking for:
The scientific foundation of psychology revolves around research. Research methods, statistical analysis and data gathering techniques will be learned. Psychology students will also have well-developed pattern-finding skills.
Since the bulk of psychology relies on research and critical analysis of information, the ability to communicate the ideas generated is very important. Also, psychology-related fields are usually collaborative, which requires effective teamwork skills.
Whether data interpretation, peer review of research or problem solving, the analytical nature of psychology makes it necessary to make logical and well-thought decisions. Psychology majors will also be able to think “outside-the-box” and view issues from multiple perspectives due to the research and analytical training from a psychology degree.
Few college majors teach as much about human behavior and actions (in ourselves and others) as psychology. Understanding how one thinks, as well as how others think, can make for a more effective understanding of workplace dynamics and production processes.
Social, political and legal cognizance
Many psychological theories and developments coincide with political, cultural or social changes. The recognition of the context in which psychological ideas and theories exist and are implemented is important for effective understanding.
The research and analytical background of the psychology discipline requires the use of technology, especially computers and data analysis software. There is also the ever-increasing integration of technology in everyday lives (such as the ubiquities of smart phones, drones and social media), which has produced social and cultural changes in today’s society. The psychology field is the on the forefront of these changes.
The psychology major focuses mostly on researching and studying human behavior. This creates the potential for ethical conundrums. Psychology students have been taught how to anticipate these issues, effectively deal with these problems as they arise and make ethical decisions.
Attention to detail
Students who come from a major where one incorrect decimal point or mistaken use of a control group can make or break a project are going to have a knack for knowing and keeping track of the details. This is a skill anyone can use regardless of their eventual profession.
Where Psych Grads End Up
Most students with a psychology doctorate degree end up working at a college or university. Many students who hold the master’s degree in psychology wind up in educational institutions as well, though just as many work for government entities. In contrast to master’s and doctorate degree holders, the vast majority of students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology end up working for private businesses.
For those who majored in psychology, about 45 percent work for private businesses, about 15 percent for state and local governments, about 15 percent for nonprofit organizations, about 5 percent for colleges and universities, about 5 percent for the federal government, about 15 percent for educational institutions other than colleges and universities, and the rest are self-employed.
The majority of psychology bachelor’s degree graduates enter occupations that are not psychology related. In fact, only about 25 percent of psychology majors work directly in a psychology-related field after graduation. One of the reasons for this is that most psychology-related jobs, such as therapist, counselor and psychologist, require a graduate level education.
The following are the top 10 areas entered into by those with a bachelor’s degree in psychology:
Mid-level and top-level administration and management
Employment, labor-training and personnel services
All other administrative (clerks, secretarial, etc.)
Insurance, securities, business or real-estate services
All other marketing and sales
Healthcare (nursing, pharmacy, therapy and physician’ assistant)
Finance (accounting, auditing and consulting)
Notice how the vast majority of these fields are not related to psychology. The table below represents the top non-psychology related fields populated by those with any type of psychology degree.
Top 10 Psychology Degree Holders’ Non-Psychology Related Occupations
Total Number of Professionals (with a bachelor’s degree or higher in psychology)
Job Options for New Psych Grads
Those with a bachelor’s degree in psychology should be well prepared to enter a wide range of professions. Below is a list of potential professions in which many psychology majors end up after graduating college. Learn more about each of these job’s requirements, growth outlook and more in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook.
Personal Financial Advisors
Advertising, Promotions and Marketing Managers
Advertising Sales Agents
Retails Sales Workers
Market Research Analysts
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists
High School Teachers
Middle School Teachers
Special Education Teachers
Labor and Employment
Human Resources and Labor Relations Specialists
Training and Development Specialists
Claims Adjusters, Appraiser, Examiners and Investigators
Insurance Sales Agents
Psychiatric Technicians and Aides
Personal Care Aides
Social and Human Service Assistants
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors
Meeting, Convention and Event Planners
Public Relations Specialists
Writer or Author
Customer Service Representatives
Secretaries and Administrative Assistants
Psychology by the Numbers
From 1960 to 2008
The number of psychology bachelor’s degrees rose from about 9,000 to about 92,000. In 2012 it was 109,000.
The number of psychology master’s degrees rose from about 2,000 to about 22,000.
The number of psychology doctorate’s degrees rose from about 1,000 to about 5,000.
From 1970 to 2012
The percentage of all bachelor’s degree holders graduating with a psychology degree grew from 5.5% to 6.1%.
The percentage of all master’s degree holders graduating with a psychology degree grew from 2.4% to 3.6%.
The percentage of all doctorate degree holders graduating with a psychology degree grew from 3.3% to 3.5%.
Between 2001 and 2007
The number of psychology bachelor’s degrees awarded climbed 17.3%.
Psychology Career and Education Resources
The following resources are valuable for those who are already engaged in the practice of psychology, those who have earned their bachelor’s degree and are looking for a good career path, or those who are simply interested in whether psychology might be the right major for them.
PsychCentral’s online database of psychology resources and reference materials.
A monthly magazine published by the American Psychological Association focusing on psychology-related topics as they apply to psychology.
Hanover College – Psychology Department
Online handbook for those joining the psychology department at Hanover College; it contains career advice and information for those thinking about getting a psychology degree.
Monitor on Psychology
A monthly magazine published by the American Psychological Association discussing various psychology issues and topics.
National Institute of Mental Health
One of several institutes that comprise the National Institutes of Health and the largest mental health research organization in the world.
O*NET Resource Center
Detailed occupational information on all types of careers, including psychology related.
A website to support the study of personality psychology through online support and information.
A website for both students and professionals who seek general psychology-based information. The site also contains a career advice page.
The largest social network catering to those in the mental health professions.
A magazine published every two months which covers psychology and related topics focused on general readership.
An Institute dedicated to understanding the brain and how the social sciences, humanities and professional disciplines are crucial to gaining this knowledge.
Non-Psych Careers in Focus
2012-2022 Job Growth: 17%
Median Annual Wage 2014: $52,430.00
Raise money for organizations by formulating and implementing strategies to gather donations. They should understand why people choose to donate money and how to make effective appeals to potential donors.
Meeting, Convention and Event Planners
2012-2022 Job Growth: 33%
Median Annual Wage 2014: $46,490
Plan, coordinate and organize professional meetings and events. They need to understand the objective of the meeting and they must be able to anticipate the needs and wishes of the various types of people that will be attending.
Human Resources Specialists
2012-2022 Job Growth: 19%
Median Annual Wage 2014: $57,420
Recruit, interview and hire employees for organizations. Administer employee benefits, payroll, training and more. They are responsible for making sure people behave appropriately in the workplace and help people work together in a safe environment.
Public Relations Specialists
2012-2022 Job Growth: 12%
Median Annual Wage 2014: $55,680.00
Develop, manage, organize and implement strategies to provide a positive image for a given organization. They should understand how to get their client’s message to the public and how to create favorable perception in the minds of those being reached.
Training and Development Specialists
2012-2022 Job Growth: 15%
Median Annual Wage 2014: $57,340.00
Design, organize and implement educational and training program to help workers improve their work skills. They must understand group dynamics and the learning needs of individual participants.
Market Research Analysts
2012-2022 Job Growth: 32%
Median Annual Wage 2014: $61,290
Analyze market conditions to understand sales of a product or service. It’s their job to understand people in order to know what products they need and want and how much they’re willing to spend for them.
Earnings for Psych Majors in Other Fields
According to the United States Census Bureau, the average lifetime earnings for an individual with a psychology degree (bachelor’s or higher) is $2.34 million.
The below graphic shows lifetime earnings for holders of psychology degrees, based on the type of terminal degree obtained and ultimate profession entered into. Information gathered from Census.gov.
Lifetime Earnings for Psychology Degree Holders (in general)
*Non-psychology related professional degrees, such as a law degree or medical doctor degree
Lifetime Earnings for Psychology Bachelor’s Degree Holders Based on Profession (non-psychology related)