15 Things to know if you are majoring in psychology

February 9, 2021

Ana Mcginley

If you are thinking about or currently enrolled in psychology, there are a few things you should be aware of regarding your study and career path before diving in. Here is a list of 15 points for you to consider in your pursuit of a degree in psychology.

1. Know what psychology is

Psychology is the study of the brain, cognition, human interaction, and behavior. It is not offering advice to friends or offering your perspective on situations. Psychology is an in-depth look at how the brain works and how it results in the thoughts and actions of individuals and groups.

At the level of a bachelor’s degree, the majority of programs will only be available as a general field of study, called Psychology. Yet, there are different types of psychology, all with their own specific focus, and with their own career paths.

2. Psychology has different branches

Psychology is a diverse field and has different branches including:

Clinical psychology

Industrial-Organizational psychology

Forensic psychology

Counseling psychology

Developmental psychology

Experimental psychology

Health psychology

School psychology

Sports psychology

Cognitive psychology

Neuropsychology

These subfields of psychology all have their own specific focus. For instance, sports psychologists focus on the mindset and behavior of athletes and generally work directly with athletes, sports teams, and sports organizations. Forensic psychologists often work in prisons, psychiatric hospitals, and community-based services. They assist individuals to transition back into the community after serving time being incarcerated.

To earn a degree in one of these branches, you will need to pursue a graduate degree to obtain further insight, knowledge, and skills relevant to the specialization.

3. Graduate school is a must

If you are currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology, start looking at graduate schools. Typically, to practice independently as a therapist or to become, for example, a neuropsychologist, will require a doctoral degree. Some universities offer a master’s degree program, which may be adequate for a select number of careers in psychology. Generally, a master’s degree is a stepping stone for you to gain acceptance into a Ph.D. program.

Doctoral programs are the most challenging and rigorous psychology programs to get into and often require you to have:

  • A minimum of 3 recommendation letters
  • Research experience
  • Previous publications
  • Competitive GRE scores
  • Competitive GPA
  • A clear statement of purpose

Each program is different in terms of what they are looking for and the interview process. See what types of funding the school offers as some offer more than others. Ensure that the school is accredited by the American Psychological Association. In programs that are not accredited, individuals may find it difficult to obtain clinical and non-clinical experience when it comes to the internship placement, which is an essential component of most programs.

4. Coursework in psychology is diverse

Psychology coursework generally involves the history of psychology, especially in introductory subjects. You can learn about the pioneers of this field, what they discovered, and how they have shaped the field of psychology today. In addition, common in many psychology programs are courses on statistics. Professors teach you how to collect, measure and analyze data from clients and research projects.

Many bachelor’s level students learn about developmental psychology including abnormal psychology, and cognitive psychology which examines how the brain functions and influences human behavior.

5. Different careers

The type of career in psychology you follow will depend on your degree and specialization. For example, if you have a degree in counseling psychology, you may choose to work as a life coach, therapist, or researcher. If your degree is in school counseling, you would likely work in elementary, middle, or high schools with kids.

Many careers will only be available with a graduate or doctorate degree, for example:

  • Professor
  • Therapist
  • School Counselor
  • Researcher

Bachelor degree holders can work in:

  • Psychiatric hospitals
  • Schools
  • Employment agencies

These lists are not exhaustive as there are many different types of career paths one can take after obtaining a psychology degree. Before starting your degree, investigate what type of career you want, and see how the psychology degree can help attain that career.

6. Licensure matters

Many students are unaware that licensure is essential to being able to practice as a psychologist, especially if you want to work in mental health services. Licensure is an important step in almost all psychology specializations and often varies according to the state you work in.

If you are wanting to offer any type of direct services to individuals, check with your state and see what coursework is needed to obtain a license to practice.

7. Get a mentor

Whether you are applying to graduate school or not, get a mentor. Mentors can help you navigate your coursework, assist you in research or publications, and guide you on what graduate school or employment options are best for you.

One way to get a mentor is to investigate the faculty at your university and find someone who is conducting research in a topic that you would like to be part of. Whether they are looking for research assistance or not, get in contact with them to ask if they would act as your undergraduate mentor. Mentors can help take a lot of guesswork out of what comes after graduation.

8. Become involved in a research project

To be admitted to a doctoral program often requires some type of research experience.

Getting research experience allows you to see how research helps psychologists develop theories, correlations, and insight into human behavior. Taking part in these studies may also get your name in academic publications which can support your pursuit of a graduate degree in psychology.

9. Get involved in organizations

By joining psychology organizations, starting at university, you can surround yourself with others who have similar goals and can help you with coursework. As a member of an organization, you can develop a professional network and create long-term professional relationships.

10. Psychology can apply to other jobs

Psychology is the study of human behavior. The coursework in a psychology program can also help you in other job situations. Often introductory psychology courses at universities are full because almost all undergraduate majors stipulate these courses as requirements to graduate.

A major in psychology can teach you:

  • How to manage different types of people
  • How to help others
  • How to navigate difficult situations
  • How to gain insight into complex individuals

These skills can help you be adaptable and flexible with all types of people, regardless of the job. Employers often ask interviewees questions about how they handle time management, or how they navigate working with people who are hard to handle or have different communication skills. This coursework can prepare you for this.

11. Online vs. in-person learning

Online

Online courses are increasingly being offered by many universities. Are online courses better than on-campus programs? The answer is that it depends. Online learning is a great tool when it comes to learning at your own pace. However, taking in-person classes allow you to interact with other students, form study groups, and speak directly to the professor. Saying this, professors often have more than 200 students in their classes. To set yourself apart, introducing yourself on the first class day will help the professor remember you. Asking questions in or after class can also promote the formation of a professional relationship.

On campus

Taking in-person classes can narrow down who you decide you want your mentor to be. If you join an on-campus psychology organization, you can take classes in-person with individuals in the organization. This can assist you to stay on track in terms of coursework and assignment dates.

The choice between online learning and in-person classes will depend on your goals and learning style.

12. Learn to set boundaries

It is important to set boundaries the instant you begin majoring in psychology. Over the longer term, this will have benefits in your career, whether you work in counseling or research. Boundaries will help you set a routine. If you schedule a time to do homework between 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., and a friend comes by asking you to go with them to go to a game, sticking to this schedule will help you form professional habits. Learning to set and enforce boundaries early can set you up for success with clients.

13. Learn how to manage your time

Time management helps you help others. Time management is often a skill many students are unsure how to do at the beginning of their educational career.

Research often requires you to manage your time appropriately and professors may ask for your availability during a specific time. Whether or not you are involved in research, time management skills can help you help clients in the future.

Clients often come in with a variety of problems, but time is more often than not one of them. Individuals tend to stress about daily tasks and need help prioritizing. You can help them with this because you yourself have developed good time management skills.

Majoring in psychology requires a lot of studying, interaction with professors and other students, and involvement on campus. Time management can help you reduce the stress of facing so many tasks.

14. Is getting published a priority or a choice?

If you are majoring in psychology, you may hear professors or graduate students discuss being published. You can become published by doing research and writing about it, writing a thesis, or doing a dissertation.

Getting published should be a priority if you want to enter graduate-level programs. One option that can lead to publications is being involved in a research study alongside a professor and other psychology students. Getting published takes time and so does research, often longer than 2 years, depending on the study.

Time management helps you help others. Time management is often a skill many students are unsure how to do at the beginning of their educational career.

15. Does passion matter?

Passion matters, but a goal matters more. Psychologists will often reflect on their past client or research experiences in discussions with students. They often reflect on the goals their clients or they themselves had and what they discovered along the way. Passion does matter but so too does recognizing what your goals are when majoring in psychology.

Final thoughts

Psychology has much to offer if you want to pursue this degree. It is okay if you decide not to continue to graduate studies in a separate field of psychology. The curriculum of psychology programs can be applied to a variety of jobs, daily life, and human interactions. It can support your knowledge about study tactics, give insights into arguments, and provide ways to communicate with those who are different than you.

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