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Psychology: Career Potential

What you can do with a psychology degree?

There are three degree levels in the field of psychology (Bachelor's, Master's, and Doctoral), and career options vary depending on the culminating degree.

Among 2017-2018 Hofstra graduates who earned a bachelor's degree in psychology and who reported salary, 95% of survey respondents reported that within one year of graduation they were employed and/or attending or planning to attend graduate school. The median annual self-reported salary among these students was $48,000. Examples of where our recent alumni are working include:

  • Anne Arundel Medical Center
  • Center for Autism & Related Disorders
  • Developmental Disabilities Institute, Inc.
  • Family Service Society
  • Huntington Hospital
  • National Family Resiliency Center
  • Northwell Health
  • South Shore Association for Independent Living
  • Townhouse Nursing Home
  • U.S. Pretrial Services

Examples of where our recent alumni are attending graduate school include:

  • Albert Einstein College of Medicine
  • Boston University
  • Columbia University
  • New York University
  • Rowan University Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences
  • Rutgers University
  • Temple University
  • University of California, Davis
  • University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • University of San Diego

Although graduates with a BA in psychology are well prepared to enter the workforce, most careers in professional and scientific psychology require at least a master's and usually a doctoral degree. If your eventual goal is to become a "psychologist," graduate work needs to be part of your plan.

The Bachelor's Degree
A bachelor's level of education in psychology is an important and worthwhile endeavor for your personal and occupational development. The breadth of training psychology majors receive is attractive to employers in a wide range of industries. Psychology majors graduate with:

  • A broadly based liberal arts education; versatility
  • An appreciation of the many aspects of human behavior, including those associated with normal and problematic development in the childhood, adolescent and adult years
  • Strong research and data analysis skills required to gain new knowledge

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, if you will end your studies in psychology with a bachelor's degree, a few careers to consider include:

  • Drug/Alcohol Counselor*
  • Health and Social Services
  • Management or Personnel Trainee
  • Marketing Research Assistant
  • Medical Research Assistant
  • "Not-for-Profit" Administrator
  • Paralegal Researcher
  • Probation/Parole Officer
  • Public Relations Representative
  • Sales Representative
  • Social and Community Services Manager
  • Early Childhood Teacher

(* With state certification)

dual major or a minor in another field is useful, but is not required. For example, a Minor in General Business might supplement your education if you have career aspirations in marketing or management. Social Psychology (Psychology 159), Industrial Psychology (Psychology 33), and Organizational Psychology (Psychology 34) would be useful courses, along with Statistics (Psychology 140) and Research Methods and Design (Psychology 141) courses that all psychology majors complete.

Another popular option for psychology majors is the Minor in Neuroscience, particularly for those with specific interest in future careers in biopsychology and health fields. Such a student would take Behavioral Neuroscience (Psychology 177) and/or Clinical Neuropsychology (Psychology 170), and Research Seminar in Behavioral Neuroscience (Psychology 194), along with courses in other departments with neuroscience-related course offerings, such as Biology, Philosophy, and Computer Science.

Alumni outcomes data is based on the results of Hofstra’s annual Alumni Outcomes Survey and other reliable sources. Of the 1,508 undergraduate students who graduated between August 2017-May 2018, data was collected via surveys and other reliable sources resulting in knowledge about the outcomes for 83% of the 17-18 undergraduate alumni. Salary data is self-reported voluntarily by students and are based upon a 45% response rate for full-time employed undergraduate survey respondents. Salary figures only include annual base salary. They do not include bonus, commission or any other guaranteed compensation.

See alumni outcome reports in their entirety.

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, and school systems (APA, 1986). 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 MA is the entry-level degree. To earn an MA 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.

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 PsyD or the PhD).
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 PhD, unless that person has had extensive field or teaching experience.

A clinical PhD program prepares you to practice psychology (e.g., diagnose mental illness and provide therapy or other services) and/or do research in a university, clinic or hospital setting. Similarly, a PsyD program prepares you to practice psychology in private practice, school, and community-based settings. You can also earn a PhD in a research area of psychology, such as social psychology, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, or behavioral/cognitive neuroscience. With a research PhD, you can teach at the college level, and conduct research in a university, hospital, government, policy, or business setting.

If your goal is to 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 recommended that you work hard and earn good grades, obtain some hands-on research experience, and try to enter such a program soon after you earn your bachelor's degree.

Doctor of Philosophy [PhD] in Clinical, Counseling or School Psychology

Persons who are interested in both the practice and the science of clinical psychology may want to look into programs that offer the PhD degree. This degree requires at least four years of course work and supervised practical work, and is followed by a year of internship. PhD graduates in these professional specialties 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 PhD in clinical 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 PhD and Psy D] require MA degrees before they accept students for the PhD, but the trend is towards a PhD only program. In these programs, students are not accepted unless they are attempting the PhD.

PhD in Psychological Subspecialties other than Clinical Psychology

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 PhD in other fields of psychology.

It is quite important and prestigious to earn a PhD 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 master's thesis. The following is a partial list of such areas:

  • Social Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Cross Cultural Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Industrial-Organizational Psychology
  • Biopsychology / Neuroscience

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. Research based PhD'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 important 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).