Psychology is a major that gives you an in-depth look at the brain and behavior. If you’ve ever wondered what drives the way people think, feel, and behave, then you might find psychology an extremely interesting and rewarding field.
As to whether psychology is a “good” major, that’s all relative! The best major for you is one that aligns with your passions, interests, and strengths. You’ll also want to consider what careers you can pursue, what courses you’ll take, and the job market and salary prospects you can expect.
In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about studying psychology in college—and what to expect after graduation. That way, you can make an informed decision about whether a psychology major is right for you!
What Is Psychology?
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines psychology as the scientific study of the mind and behavior. It’s a broad field that also includes human development, personality, emotion, and motivation, as well as the biological and environmental factors that shape these areas.
Psychology is used to explain, predict, and sometimes change the mental processes and behavior of humans. It has applications in mental health treatment, education, public policy, child development, the design of social programs, and more.
There are many specialized areas within the field of psychology, including:
- Abnormal psychology
- Clinical psychology
- Developmental psychology
- Forensic psychology
- Personality psychology
- Social psychology
What Careers Can I Go Into with a Psychology Major?
If you’re interested in psychology because you want to be a psychologist, you will need a doctorate in psychology. Similarly, psychiatrists need a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree. Most licensed counselors and therapists hold a master’s degree, although some pursue a doctorate. The point is: If you want a career in the field of psychology, you will need an advanced degree.
However, there are other careers you can go into with only a bachelor’s in psychology. These include:
- Career/employment counselor
- Social worker
- Child development specialist
- Corrections officer
- Market research analyst
- Psychiatric aide/technician
- Substance abuse counselor
- Technical writer
- Victims’ advocate
Most of the jobs listed here do not require a psychology degree, but they will accept one. Having a background in psychology will prove useful in these areas. However, if your reason to major in psychology is to have a specialized job in the field, plan on pursuing at least a master’s degree.
How Is the Job Market for Psychology Majors?
Psychology majors gain useful, transferrable workplace skills, such as:
- Critical and analytical thinking
- Understanding of human behavior
- Written and oral communication (including academic writing and presentations)
- Organization and time management
- General research abilities
- Data analysis
- Leadership and collaboration
These skills are valuable in many jobs, as you can see by the extremely varied list in the previous section. When it comes to the job market, it’s great to have transferrable skills. If one industry struggles, you can switch to another industry where your skills are just as necessary.
Now, let’s get more statistic. Here’s the job outlook for some of the careers for psychology majors listed above, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
- School/Career Counselors: 8% projected growth rate through 2029
- Social Worker: 13% projected growth rate through 2029
- Market Research Analyst: 18% projected growth rate through 2029
- Psychiatric Technician/Aide: 12% projected growth rate through 2029
- Substance Abuse Counselor: 25% projected growth rate through 2029
- Teacher: 4% projected growth rate through 2029
For context, the average projected growth rate for all careers is 4%. Most of these potential careers are growing more than double the average rate. A degree in psychology can open doors to numerous rapidly growing, in-demand jobs.
And if you want to earn a more advanced degree, here’s the job outlook for psychology careers you might want to pursue:
- Psychologist: 3% projected growth rate through 2029
- Psychiatrist: 12% projected growth rate through 2029
- Mental Health Counselor: 25% projected growth rate through 2029
- Marriage and Family Therapist: 22% projected growth rate through 2029
Most of these jobs are also growing much faster than average. And while the outlook is less promising for psychologists, keep in mind that it’s a far more specialized field requiring the most advanced degree. Although there may be fewer jobs, there’s also far less competition. Overall, the job market looks great for psychology majors!
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What Salary Does a Psychology Major Earn?
With so much variation in potential careers for psychology majors, there’s also a lot of variation in the salary you can expect to earn.
Let’s take another look at the six jobs listed above to give you a general idea. This time, we’ll focus on average salary with data pulled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and PayScale:
- School/Career Counselors: $58,120
- Social Worker: $51,760
- Market Research Analyst: $65,810
- Psychiatric Technician/Aide: $33,140
- Substance Abuse Counselor: $47,660
- High School Teacher: $62,870 (varies by state)
Now, let’s look at the average salary for someone with a more advanced degree in psychology:
- Psychologist: $82,180
- Psychiatrist: $214,765
- Mental Health Counselor: $49,539
- Marriage and Family Therapist: $51,340
Wow, that’s a huge range! Depending on what degree you pursue and which career you choose, you can earn anywhere from $33,000 to over $200,000. For the most part, earning a more advanced and specialized degree will also earn you a higher salary. Still, even a bachelor’s degree in psychology can help you obtain a solid salary.
What Do I Study as a Psychology Major?
Since psychology is a broad field, psychology majors receive a broad education, with a focus on liberal arts and sciences. You can expect coursework in the history and theories of psychology, including electives based on your personal interests and career goals. You will also study biology, mathematics, and statistics. Most psychology programs will allow you to choose a focus, such as general psychology or behavioral psychology.
If you pursue a more advanced degree later, you will focus even more on an area of specialization. This might include Clinical Health, Developmental, Social, Behavior Analysis, Mental Health Counseling, School Psychology, Marriage and Family Counseling, Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience, and many more.
What Classes Does a Psychology Major Take?
The specific requirements of your psychology degree will depend on the college you attend. However, the following sample courses can give you some idea of what to expect:
- Introduction to Psychology
- Introduction to Psychology as a Natural Science
- Introduction to Statistics and Data Analysis
- Cognitive Psychology
- Evolution and Behavior
- Developmental Psychology
- Psychology of Personality
- Psychology of Women and Gender
- Research Methods in Psychology
- Research Methods in Brain, Behavior, and Cognitive Science
- Introduction to Survey Research I
- Faculty Directed Advanced Research
- Internship in Psychology
As you can see, the psychology major will give you a broad understanding of various specializations within the field. You’ll also explore data analysis, research, and the basic history and theories of psychology. Your courses will become much more specialized if you pursue a more advanced degree, with topics like:
- Group Psychotherapy
- Child, Adolescent, and Family Therapies
- Ethical and Professional Issues in Mental Health Practices
- Human Sexuality, Marriage, and Sex Therapies
- Eating Disorders
- Infant Development
- Psychology of Aging
- Adolescent Psychology
- Research Methods in Developmental Psychology
- Laboratory Procedures in Behavior Analysis
- Behaviorism and Contemporary Society
- Psychology of Learning and Memory
- Positive Psychology
- Attitudes and Social Cognition
- Psychological Theories of Substance Abuse Treatment
- Measurement, Research Design, and Statistical Analysis in Clinical Psychology
What Schools Offer a Psychology Major?
Most schools offer a degree in psychology. According to U.S. News, the top schools for students interested in psychology are:
- Stanford University
- University of California-Berkeley
- Harvard University
- University of California-Los Angeles
- University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
- Yale University
- University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Princeton University
- University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
- University of Pennsylvania
- University of Texas-Austin
- University of California-San Diego
- University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
- University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Washington University in St. Louis
- Carnegie Mellon University
- Columbia University
- Duke University
Most of the schools you’re interested in applying to probably offer a degree in psychology. To narrow down your options, visit the website of each of your favorite colleges. Check if they have a psychology major, then read more about the program and the classes you’ll take. Talk to current and former students in person or on message boards and social media. Doing your research will help you determine which program is the best fit for you.
How Do I Know if Psychology Is a Good Fit for Me?
A psychology major might be right for you if you have an interest in what makes people “tick.” Do you wonder why people think, feel, and behave in certain ways? A natural curiosity about and empathy for people will serve you well in this field.
Other helpful skills for psychology majors include:
- Basic math and research abilities
- Good communication and listening
- Strong reasoning and thinking abilities
- Organization and prioritization
If you have these skills and an interest in the brain and behavior, a degree in psychology might be calling your name!
What Steps Can I Take in High School to Prepare for a Psychology Major?
If a psychology major is sounding like the right choice for you, you may be asking: What can I do now to prepare to major in psychology? It’s never too early to start planning and preparing!
Here are a few steps you can take in high school:
- Take the most advanced courses available at your school. In particular, take AP or IB classes in statistics, biology, and psychology. You may also want to sign up for courses in sociology and public speaking. Make sure to develop your writing skills too!
- Score well on standardized tests, including your AP and IB exams. Similarly, work hard in your classes and aim for a high GPA.
- Read books and watch videos or documentaries about psychology to develop your knowledge independently.
- Look for extracurricular activities that will help you continue to build your leadership, communication, and collaboration skills. If your school has any clubs related to psychology, be sure to join!
Following these tips will prepare you for earning a psychology degree, and they’ll help you get into a good program. Once enrolled in a psychology program, continue paying attention in your classes, applying good note-taking and study habits, and building relationships with peers and professors. You’ll likely be required to get an internship in psychology. If not, try to find one anyway. Look for something as close to your preferred specialty as possible.
Once you earn your bachelor’s degree in psychology, you may want to continue with your education. Pursuing a master’s or doctorate in the field will give you access to more prestigious and higher-paying jobs. Most careers that are directly related to psychology require an advanced degree. If you want to stop at a bachelor’s degree, leverage your network and connections to look for a career that interests you. You can go into social work, education, corrections, or even marketing. You’ll have plenty of possibilities to consider!
Final Thoughts: Is Psychology a Good Major?
Are you an empathetic person with an interest in the brain, feelings, and human behavior? Do you have solid skills in mathematics, research, and communication? Are you a strong critical and analytical thinker with an open mind? If so, psychology is probably a great major for you!
Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that you’ll need an advanced degree to work as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or a licensed therapist or counselor. A bachelor’s degree in psychology offers a number of other opportunities in varied disciplines. Whether you earn an undergraduate or a doctorate degree in the field, you do have strong job prospects and potential for a solid salary.
If a psychology major sounds like a good fit for your interests and goals, then it’s certainly worth considering!