Studying psychology: 38 statistics to know

Studying psychology: 38 statistics to know

    Psychology is the study of the human mind, including behavior, feelings, and mental states. The word “psychology” comes from the Latinized Greek words psyche (breath, spirit, or soul) and logia (study of). Psychology is consistently one of the most popular majors at the undergraduate level. A bachelor’s in psychology can be a great first step towards a career as a psychologist, but you will need at least a master’s degree to become a licensed psychologist.

    To help you determine if this educational path is for you, we’ve compiled 38 insightful statistics about majoring in psychology, going to grad school for a psychology program, and pursuing a career in psychology.

    Is psychology a good major?

    A bachelor’s in psychology is a popular and versatile degree. It can be the starting point on the long educational journey to becoming a psychologist, or can set the foundation for continuing on to a graduate program in a related discipline like social work, teaching, or counseling. It’s worth noting that majoring in psychology is not required for entering a doctoral psychology program, although it can be good preparation.

    1. In 2021, 262,700 high school students worldwide took the AP Psychology Exam. (College Board).
    2. Around 2,000 colleges and universities award credit for AP Psychology – usually 3-5 credits, depending on your score. (College Board)
    3. Psychology is the fifth most popular major in the U.S., representing around 6% of all awarded bachelor’s degrees. (National Center for Education Statistics)
    4. The median cost of a bachelor’s in psychology is $17,800 per year. (Degreechoices data)
    5. In the 2019-2020 graduating class, 79% of psychology graduates were female. (National Center for Education Statistics)
    6. 10.2% of psychology undergraduate programs are fully remote. (Degreechoices data)
    7. Capella, an online university in Minneapolis, grants the most psychology degrees of all schools in the country. (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System)
    8. When counting by the number of degrees awarded, public 4-year or above institutions are the most common type of school to grant bachelor’s degrees in psychology. (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System)
    9. According to our rankings, CUNY Bernard M Baruch College offers the best return on educational investment of all U.S. colleges with psychology majors.

    » Read: Scholarships for psychology students

    What can a psychology major do after college?

    A bachelor’s in psychology is a very versatile degree in terms of what type of work you can do after graduation. The careers pursued by psych grads range across 88 out of 129 occupation categories. However, you will need to go to graduate school and get licensed if you want to become a psychologist.

    1. On average, an investment in a psychology bachelor’s will “pay off” in 8.5 years, which is quite a bit longer than the average of 4.52 years for all bachelor’s degrees. (Degreechoices data)
    2. Three years after graduating, the average bachelor’s in psychology graduate earns $35,412 per year, which is $11,000 less than the average for all bachelor’s degrees. (Degreechoices data)
    3. In 2019, an estimated 1,509,200 employees in the U.S. workforce held a bachelor’s in psychology as their highest degree. (American Psychological Association)
    4. 28.6% of recent psychology graduates describe their current job as “closely related” to their psych major. (National Survey of College Graduates 2021)
    5. In the long term, bachelor’s in psychology grads earn around $67,000 per year, or slightly below the average of $69,000 for all bachelor’s degree holders. (Payscale).
    6. Careers in sales are the most common primary jobs for graduates with a bachelor’s in psychology. (American Psychological Association)
    7. 14% of psychology degree holders worked as managers in their first job, 19% did so in their second job, and 31% did so in their third job. (APA Center for Workforce Studies)

    Why study psychology at the master’s level?

    A master’s degree is typically embedded into the first 2 years of a PsyD or PhD in psychology. Therefore, a standalone master’s in psychology only makes sense if you do not plan to do a doctorate in the field. The 2 main careers with a master’s in psychology are industrial-organizational (I-O) and school psychology, although 51.9% of I-O psychologists and 35.6% of school psychologists have a doctoral degree.

    1. In 2017, 14% of bachelor’s in psychology holders earned graduate degrees in psychology and 30% earned graduate degrees in a different discipline. (American Psychological Association)
    2. About 45% of psychology majors go on to earn a graduate degree, compared to an average of 35.1% for all college students. (Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce)
    3. Grade point averages, letters of recommendation, and statements of academic and career goals were consistently ranked as the most important admissions review criteria across all psychology graduate programs. (APA Graduate Study in Psychology Summary Report)
    4. Acceptance rates for most psychology master’s programs are between 35% and 65%. (APA Graduate Study in Psychology Summary Report)
    5. Social psychology master’s programs have the lowest median acceptance rate, at 33%. (APA Graduate Study in Psychology Summary Report)
    6. The percent of master’s programs in psychology that require GRE scores decreased by about half between the 2019–20 and 2020–21 academic years, dropping from 63% to 36%. (APA Graduate Study in Psychology Summary Report)
    7. Between 2008 and 2017, the number of psychology master’s degrees awarded grew by 28%, from 21,890 to 28,054. (APA Master’s and Doctoral Degrees Awarded in Psychology Report)
    8. The highest rate of growth (293%) for psychology master’s degrees awarded between 2008 and 2017 was in experimental psychology. (APA Master’s and Doctoral Degrees Awarded in Psychology Report)
    9. 23.4% of psychologists have a master’s degree and 66.2% have a doctoral or professional degree. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
    10. According to our rankings, master’s in psychology graduates at California State University, Long Beach are getting the best return on their educational investment compared to all other psychology master’s students in the country.

    Do you need a doctorate to be a psychologist?

    While you can become an I-O or school psychologist with a master’s degree (see above), the educational path to a career as a psychologist usually culminates in a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (PhD) or Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree. Through doctoral studies, would-be psychologists acquire research and field experience while they train in their specific area of interest.

    This degree involves a tremendous commitment of time and energy. As such, a level of passion for the field is essential. Wanting to know why someone does or thinks the way they do, and how this process can be adapted to improve quality of life, is at the essence of what psychologists do. Even research psychologists, removed from the clinical setting, have an underlying fascination with brain processes and want to understand what’s behind a certain response or reaction.

    1. Between 2008 and 2017, the number of psychology doctorates awarded grew by 25%, from 5,524 to 6,915. (APA Master’s and Doctoral Degrees Awarded in Psychology Report)
    2. In 2017, 55% of doctorates in psychology were awarded in health service psychology, while the remaining 45% were awarded in research psychology. (APA Master’s and Doctoral Degrees Awarded in Psychology Report)
    3. Forensic psychology is the fastest-growing doctoral field in psychology. Between 2008 and 2017, the number of doctoral degrees awarded in this field grew by 441%. (APA Master’s and Doctoral Degrees Awarded in Psychology Report)
    4. The percent of psychology doctoral programs requiring GRE scores decreased by about half between the 2019–20 and 2020–21 academic years, dropping from 92% to 45%.
    5. (APA Master’s and Doctoral Degrees Awarded in Psychology Report)
    6. According to data from 2017, 75% of psychology doctorates were awarded to women and 69% were given to individuals who identify as white. (APA Master’s and Doctoral Degrees Awarded in Psychology Report)
    7. The number of psychology doctorates awarded to individuals from racial/ethnic minority groups grew rapidly between 2008 and 2017, increasing by 63%. (APA Master’s and Doctoral Degrees Awarded in Psychology Report)

    Is psychology a good career?

    Becoming a psychologist can be a fulfilling and rewarding career. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of psychologists is projected to grow 6% from 2021 to 2031, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations.

    Additionally, the median annual wage for psychologists in 2021 was $81,040, with the top 10% earning more than $133,890 per year. With a diverse range of specializations within the field of psychology, there are numerous opportunities for individuals to find a career path that aligns with their interests and passions.

    1. On average, the highest-paid psychologists are industrial-organizational psychologists, who earn a median annual pay of $105,310. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
    2. The largest employers of psychologists are elementary and secondary schools, which employ 27% of all psychologists. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
    3. 27% of psychologists in the U.S. are self-employed. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
    4. Psychologists are most in demand in Los Angeles, California. (Zippia)
    5. The average age of employed psychologists is 46. (Zippia)
    6. The town of Islip, New York is the highest-paid Public Use Microdata Area (PUMA) for psychologists in the U.S. (Data USA)

    Final thoughts

    The field of psychology offers a diverse range of career opportunities and can be a highly rewarding career choice for those who are passionate about understanding human behavior and improving mental health.

    Some specializations you can consider include:

    The statistics we’ve discussed demonstrate that there is significant demand for psychologists in the United States, and the earning potential is competitive. With continued growth projected for the field, those who choose to pursue a career in psychology can expect a dynamic and fulfilling professional life.

    Whether you’re interested in clinical work, research, or education, the field of psychology has something to offer. So, if you have a passion for understanding people and want to make a positive impact on the world, psychology may be the perfect career path for you.

    FAQs about psychology careers 

    Psychologists can call themselves therapists, and may choose to do so if they offer therapeutic services to patients or clients in private practice. The term ‘psychologist’ is typically reserved for someone who has completed a doctoral degree in psychology. It’s possible to become a therapist without a psychology degree.

    Clinical psychologists help individuals manage diagnosed mental illnesses like depression or bipolar disorder. Counseling psychologists offer their services to a greater variety of individuals, which can include those struggling with mental illness as well as individuals seeking help with everyday emotional, interpersonal, and physical stressors.

    In most cases, a doctoral degree in psychology is required to become a licensed psychologist. Before entering a doctoral program, applicants must have completed a bachelor’s degree.

    Psychology master’s programs are frequently embedded into doctoral programs, meaning you do not have to first earn a master’s but rather complete it during the initial years of your doctoral degree.

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