Year after year, psychology ranks as one of the most popular college majors. Last year, close to 130,000 college students graduated with a major in psychology, second only to business. If you are thinking about majoring in psychology, here are some key things to know about this popular subject.
Psychology is the scientific study of the human mind and its functions. Psychology undergraduates learn how to interpret, predict, understand and control human behavior. Students majoring in psychology usually take an introductory survey course to the field in freshman or sophomore year. This course introduces them to psychological topics such as memory, learning, personality, sensing and perceiving and human psychological development. The introductory course is followed by psychology courses that delve deeper into these areas of study. Some undergraduate programs allow students to take a concentration of courses in a particular area of psychology, such as cognitive science, child development, or social psychology.
A common misperception is that a psychology major doesn’t require any math or science. This is untrue. Nearly every psychology major is required to take at least one or two science courses and at least one course in statistics in addition to psychology classes. Some programs require more math and science, especially for students pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree. Upper level psychology coursework will often involve quantitative analysis of research data for which a solid understanding of math and statistics is important. Students who are planning to go on to graduate study in psychology, or who hope to attend medical school, will usually be encouraged to take additional math, statistics, and science courses beyond the minimum requirements.
A second common misperception about psychology is that it is an ideal major for students who are interested in helping other people. While an interest in understanding human behavior is an important component of successfully studying psychology in college, the undergraduate major itself is not focused on preparing students to assist others. Students who wish to enter a helping profession, by becoming a licensed therapist or psychologist, will need to complete at least a Master’s degree, or possibly a doctoral degree.
According to research conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), only about 5 percent of students who majored in psychology at the undergraduate level end up working in psychology-related occupations. Of those, nearly 80% are employed in educational settings.
Some psychology majors do become psychologists, therapists, and psychiatrists. However, an undergraduate degree in psychology does not qualify one for these positions; a graduate degree and a license is required for these positions. Therapists, such as marriage and family therapists, usually earn at least a master’s degree. Most states require psychologists to complete a doctorate before they can be licensed. Doctoral programs can require an additional four to seven years of study after completing an undergraduate degree. Psychiatrists are medical doctors. In order to become a psychiatrist, medical school plus several years of specialized additional study is required.
Although most psychology majors don’t end up working in psychology-related occupations, that doesn’t mean that they don’t graduate with knowledge and skills that employers value. Thanks to the strong quantitative focus in many psychology courses, psychology undergraduates learn how to use statistical methodology and software to gather, analyze and evaluate data, which is a skill increasingly valued in the work place. Psychology majors also develop strong writing, research, and interpersonal skills that employers want and need. Psychology majors can also strengthen their future resumes´ by adding courses in business and computer science to their undergraduate schedules. Seeking out part-time employment, internships, and extracurricular activities can also make recent graduates more attractive to prospective employers.
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