What can I do with an undergraduate psychology degree?
The real answer is: “it depends on what you do during your undergraduate training.” If you pursue the degree by only taking the course work (with no extra research or practice-based experiences), there are certain opportunities upon graduation. If, however, you build into your training some research and/or practice-oriented experiences, there will be additional opportunities.
Graduates with a bachelor’s degree in psychology can pursue graduate training. Students with high GPAs, solid letters of recommendations from your faculty, and a solid GRE score are competitive for graduate school programs in psychology, counseling, and social work. Graduates with these same qualifications but who also had research oriented experiences during undergraduate training are more competitive, especially for research-oriented graduate programs. Graduates with practice-oriented experiences are also more competitive for practice or clinically-oriented graduate programs.
Psychology constitutes the second largest major of students in medical school (second to biology majors). However, in order to qualify and compete for medical school, a psychology major must have pursued the pre-med curriculum (e.g. biology, anatomy, physiology, etc.) in addition to psychology major requirements. In addition, you must earn a solid score on the MCAT exam taken by medical school applicants.
Psychology majors are well represented in law schools. But just as is true for medical school applicants, in order to qualify and compete for law school, a psychology major must have pursued the pre-law curriculum (e.g. history, accounting, political science etc.) in addition to psychology major requirements. In addition, you must earn a solid score on the LSAT exam taken by law school applicants.
Employment in Research Institutions
Most metropolitan areas have research foundations or institutions. Psychology graduates work in these settings if they can demonstrate an interest, aptitude, or experience conducting research. If the graduates have research experiences during undergraduate training, they are more competitive and probably more successful in these jobs.
Employment in Social Service Agencies
Psychology graduates are well represented in social service agency because they are able to work well with clients served by the agencies and because they are good problem solvers.
Psychology majors are also found in a diverse array of jobs in business settings. Some graduates pursue work in human resources, while others can be found in a variety of business settings, such as insurance, airline industry, government, etc. They are able to secure these type of jobs because of past work in the same areas and because psychology majors are known to be good problem solvers and employees who can think critically.
What graduate training follows a bachelor’s degree?
Psychology graduates can pursue a variety of graduate training programs. Most graduates qualify for any of the programs described below (dependent on GPA, letters of recommendations, and GRE scores). Students should reflect on their choices carefully because each training program provides a very different outcome and career path. Specific questions about any of these can be brought to one of your faculty to discuss in more depth.
Psychology: Psychology masters programs are either research oriented (Masters of Science; M.S.) or clinically oriented (Masters of Arts; M.A.). M.S. degrees prepare you for employment in research settings. M.A. degrees prepare you for clinical settings. In some programs, as an outcome of completing the program, you may be able to pursue a certification or license (depending on the state where you live).
Social Work: Social work programs (Masters of Social Work; M.S.W) are not considered psychology degrees; however, graduates of these programs work in clinical settings and often times perform similar functions as M.A. psychology graduates. Graduates of these programs sometimes pursue a doctoral degree in social work (D.S.W)
Counselor Education: Counselor educations programs (Master of Education; M.Ed.) are not considered psychology degrees; however, graduates of these programs often perform counseling and psychotherapy in clinical settings (similar to M.A. psychology graduates). Graduates of these programs often pursue license as a Licensed Practicing Counselor (LPC) and be found working in drug rehabilitation and in-patient psychiatric centers.
Doctoral degree training varies across subspecialty fields of psychology (clinical, counseling, social psychology, experimental, cognitive, developmental, etc.). Qualifications for doctoral training include high GPA, research experience and/or clinical experience, solid letters of recommendation, high GRE scores, and a commitment to the profession. A prior master’s degree is NOT necessarily a requirement to be qualified for a doctoral program.
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.): The Ph.D. is considered the highest degree possible in higher education, mostly because it requires a dissertation for completion. A Ph.D. is awarded in many fields, not just psychology. This training requires often 4-6 years of training, depending on the unique requirements of the program. For example, a Ph.D. in such areas of social, personality, experimental, development, and cognitive psychology can be completed in 4 years if there are no unforeseen delays. However, for clinically-oriented fields such as clinical, counseling and school psychology, which require a 12 month internship (in addition to the dissertation), make take up to 6 years to complete. For a detailed description of the differences in the three clinically oriented fields, consult with your faculty.
Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.): The Psy.D. is a relatively new degree (first awarded in the early 1970s) that is designed for the professional who wants to be a practitioner. Most Psy.D. programs do not require a dissertation, but they do require the same 12 month internship as the clinical, counseling and school psychology fields do.
For a few select psychology majors, there is the McNair Scholars program at UIW. For a complete description of that program, go to their webpage.
There are also several programs nationally that provide summer programs for undergraduates, on a competitive bases. A sample of those programs can be found in the following table:
Undergraduate Summer Programs
American Psychological Association and the Association of Neurosciences Departments-SPINES
Baylor College of Medicine-SMART Program www.bcm.tmc.edu/smart
California Institute of Technology-Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship www.cco.caltech.edu/~surf
California Institute of Technology-Minority Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) www.its.caltech.edu/~murf
California State, Fullerton stromboli.fullerton.edu
Case Western Reserve University-Health Careers www.cwru.edu/pubs/cnews/1997/2-27/summer.htm
CIIT Research Triangle Parksea-Toxicology www.ciit.org
CIRRUS Index-Chemistry summer programs www.chem.plu.edu/sumr_res.html
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory www.cshl.org/URPsite/URP.html
Cornell University-Mathematical Sciences www.biom.cornell.edu/MTBI/index.html
Harvard Medical School www.hms.harvard.edu/dms/diversity/shurpintro.html
Mayo Graduate School www.mayo.edu/mgs/surf.html
Minority Access, Inc. www.minorityaccess.org
Mount Sinai Undergraduate Summer Research www.mssm.edu/gradschool/surp_home.shtml
National Institute of Health-Biomedical Research www.training.nih.gov/student/index.asp
National Institute of Health-Neurological Disorders www.ninds.nih.gov/jobs_and_training/summer/index.htm
National Institute of Health-Various Programs www.nhlbi.nih.gov/funding/training/redbook/underint.htm
National Science Foundation-Undergraduate Mentoring in Environmental Biology www.umeb.net/internships_summer03/internships.html
New York University-Biomedical Sciences www.med.nyu.edu/Sackler/summer.html
Stanford University www-med.stanford.edu/school/biosciences/ssrpbs.html
UC Berkeley www.grad.berkeley.edu/outreach
UC Los Angeles Summer Programs www.lifesci.ucla.edu/CARE
UC San Francisco Research Training Program www.student.ucsf.edu/summerprogram/home.jsp
University of Georgia-Microbial Physiology www.genetics.uga.edu
University of Minnesota-Computational Neuroscience www.compneuro.umn.edu/sumintern.html
University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio surf.uthscsa.edu
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas www.swmed.edu/home_pages/grad/webpages/surf.htm
University of Utah www.med.utah.edu/srop
University of Virginia www.med.virginia.edu/ed-programs/gpo/srip
Washington State University www.nslc.wustl.edu/Research/prefreshmen.html
Yale University-Guide to Summer Research Summer Opportunities www.yale.edu/yser/news/extramural.html