What you can do with a psychology degree?
There are three degree levels in the field of psychology:
The Bachelor's Degree
An undergraduate or bachelor's level of education in psychology is an important and worthwhile endeavor for your personal and occupational development. Psychology majors graduate from Hofstra University with a broadly based liberal arts education. They are taught to appreciate the many aspects of human behavior including those associated with normal and problematic development in the childhood, adolescent and adult years. Psychology majors acquire a broad base of knowledge about human behavior and they learn research skills required to gain new knowledge. Indeed, the breadth of training psychology majors receive is attractive to many employers.
However, if you are going to terminate your education with a B.A. then it is important to gain experience and exposure to other fields and the workplace while completing your degree in psychology. This can be acquired through summer jobs, part-time work, and courses in the University related to your interests. With this kind of background you will become a broadly trained, well-educated and marketable graduate.
This is a list of some of the job possibilities for graduates with a B.A. in Psychology to consider:
- Management Trainee Personnel Trainee
- Public Relations Representative Sales Representative
- Marketing Research Assistant Drug/alcohol Counselor*
- Medical Research Assistant Probation/parole Officer
- Teacher Child Care
- Health Services Social Services
- "Not-for-profit" Administrator Paralegal Researcher
(* With state certification)
Although graduates with a B.A. in psychology are well prepared to enter to world at large, most careers in professional and scientific psychology require at least a master's and usually a doctoral degree. So, if your goal is to become a "psychologist," be prepared to go on for graduate work.
A dual major or a minor in a related field is useful, particularly for students who wish to eventually work in business. For example, Social Psychology (Psychology 159), Industrial Psychology (Psychology 33), and Organizational Psychology (Psychology 34) would be useful courses for a marketing career, along with the Measurement and Statistics (Psychology 140) and Research Methods and Design (Psychology 141) courses that all psychology majors complete. Other courses to supplement your education can be taken in the School of Business.
A popular option is the Elementary Education/Psychology dual major. Such a student would take Child Psychology (Psychology 153) and Research Seminar in Developmental Psychology (Psychology 196), and a course in Behavior Modification (Psychology 111) or Psychological Testing (Psychology 178). Other courses would be taken in the School of Education.
When choosing your elective psychology courses, do not shy away from courses that promote writing and critical thinking. Some people think: "research papers--uggh!" But, have you ever seen a job description that says: "WANTED-crackerjack multiple choice and fill in the blank expert?" No? Well, you get the point.
The Master's Degree
There are two types of master's programs. A professional or terminal program provides training for employment in applied settings such as community mental health centers, business, school systems (APA, 1986), and so on. In constrast, some other programs expect their graduates to apply subsequently for a doctoral program. Those are not terminal programs, as they expect graduate to pursue further education.
If your career goal is to work as a Certified School Psychologist or in an industrial-organizational psychology or business or industry setting, the M.A. is the entry-level degree. To earn an M.A. in School Psychology or in Industrial-Organizational Psychology, you would typically complete two years of course work and an internship.
Check out master's programs carefully for what they offer and learn what the graduates of that program do. All states and most Canadian provinces require that services provided by person's with a master's degree in psychology work under the supervision of a doctoral level psychologist (APA, 1986).
A Masters of Social Work degree (MSW.) is also worth exploring. MSW holders may provide counseling and therapy in community centers and in private practice. It is important to note that M.A. and MSW recipients often compete for the same career opportunities as do B.A. recipients (see list above).
Doctoral Programs and Degrees
Persons with only a master's degree in academic or clinical settings may find a limit to their advancement and earning power as compared with those with a doctoral degree (i.e., the Psy.D or the Ph.D).
All states reserve the title "Psychologist" for persons with doctorates, and a doctorate is required for independent, unsupervised private practice. It is rare these days to find a full-time faculty position above the junior college level which requires less than a Ph.D., unless that person has had extensive field or teaching experience.
A clinical Ph.D. program prepares you to practice psychology (e.g., provide therapy or other services) and/or do research in a university, clinic or hospital setting. You can also earn a Ph.D. in a research area of psychology, such as social psychology, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, or quantititative psychology. With a research Ph.D., you can teach at the college level, and conduct research in a university, hospital, government, policy, or business setting.
If your goal is work in an academic or clinical setting, but your academic credentials are not strong enough to obtain admission to a four (or more) year doctoral program, a master's program may be a good option for you as a first step to a career. A person who does well in such a program can then apply to a doctoral program after having "proved" him or herself. Be aware that not all credits may transfer between master’s and doctoral programs, so this route takes more time. If you are interested in the doctorate, it is recommend that you work hard and earn good grades, obtain some hands-on research experience, and try to enter such a program directly after you earn your B.A.
Doctor of Philosophy [Ph.D.] in Clinical, Counseling or School Psychology
Persons who are interested in both the practice and the science of clinical, counseling, or school psychology may want to look into programs that offer the Ph.D. degree. This degree requires at least four years of course work and supervised practical work, and is followed by a year of internship. Ph.D. graduates in these professional specialities then may take a licensing examination to work as an independent practitioner or they may work in academic or governmental settings.
An original doctoral dissertation including a literature review, data collection, statistical analysis and discussion is required. A Ph.D. in clinical, counseling or school psychology offers the possibility of teaching at the college or university level, working as a researcher, and working as an independent private practitioner.
Note: Some doctoral programs [both Ph.D. and Psy D.] require M.A. degrees before they accept students for the Ph.D., but the trend is towards a Ph.D only program. In these programs, students are not accepted unless they are attempting the Ph.D.
Ph.D. in Research Fields
Although undergraduates often first consider the professional psychology route (clinical, counseling, or school psychology) many if not most of the professors who teach them have obtained a research-based Ph.D in other fields of psychology.
It is quite important and prestigious to earn a Ph.D. in a research field. Remember, the practice of psychology is based on empirical evidence and research psychologists gather that evidence.
Obtaining this kind of degree requires advanced course work and at least a dissertation completed in graduate school, composed of one or more original experiments or research studies. Sometimes the dissertation follows a masters' thesis. The following is a partial list of such areas:
- Clinical Research [or Experimental Psychopathology] Cognitive Science *
- Community Psychology
- Cross Cultural Psychology
- Developmental Psychology
- Experimental Psychology *
- Industrial-Organizational Psychology
- Biopsychology / Neuroscience
- School Psychology Research
- Social Psychology
Typically, after completing a 4- to 7-year course of study at a major research university, and sometimes after additional postdoctoral work, holders of these degrees become college or university professors or researchers for the government or industry.
In addition to teaching two to four courses a semester, professors are expected to publish research articles and books, present their work at national or international conferences, and perform service to their communities. Professors at large universities also write proposals for research grants, supervise graduate students who are conducting their master's theses and doctoral dissertations, and teach graduate courses in their specialties or clinical practica (techniques of therapy, etc.). Research based Ph.D.'s provide fulfilling lives for those who hold them and there is great satisfaction in discovering new knowledge.
Students interested in becoming a professor in an academic sub-field should try to gain experience working with a professor interested in that area and, if possible, complete an honors thesis (see below) before they apply to graduate school. It is importantly that the students develop a strong interest in a particular topic. Then, selectively apply to graduate programs where research on that topic is being conducted. (Typically, graduate professors select students on the basis of their interest, as well as academic excellence, and serve as mentors to the students through graduate school and beyond).