Career Paths for Psychology Degrees (Master’s & Other)
Psychology is one of the most popular educational fields to study.
Knowledge gained from a psychology program can serve you in many different career paths and throughout life. Most people who earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology do not go on to work in the field of psychology, but the foundational understanding of the human mind helps them succeed in whichever professional field they enter.
Individuals who go on to earn a master’s or doctorate degree in psychology are far more likely to work in the field of psychology after completing their degree. Master’s-level psychology degrees can lead to professional licensure in the fields of social work, counseling, mental health, and applied behavior analysis, among others.
Individuals who earn doctorate degrees in psychology usually have the greatest earning opportunities in the field of psychology. Psychologists often specialize in a field of choice, such as clinical, educational, forensic, industrial-organizational, environmental, or sport psychology, among many other fields.
A Degree in Psychology
A degree in psychology can be awarded at the bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate level. Students of psychology focus on the human mind and behavior. They study the science of behavior and how it is affected by our environments. All levels of psychology degrees provide a basis for human understanding that can be applied to daily and professional life.
Many students of psychology start by earning a general psychology degree and then go on to further studies in a more specialized field. Knowledge gained from a psychology degree can be applied to nearly any field and work environment. Students of psychology pursuing graduate degrees are likely to conduct their own research as well.
Bachelor’s in Psychology
Psychology is one of the most popular majors for undergraduates to study in college.
A bachelor of arts (BA) or bachelor of science (BS) in psychology can be awarded. A BA will typically have more liberal arts courses, while a BS requires more general science and math courses. Both degrees take about four years to complete.
With a bachelor’s in psychology, you can apply your communication and interpersonal skills to nearly any entry-level job. These career options are possible for people with a bachelor’s in psychology:
- Advertising agent
- Sales representative
- Market researcher
- Case manager
- Psychiatric technician
- Rehabilitation specialist
- Mental health technician
- Social work assistant
- Career counselor
- Probation or parole officer
- Technical writer
- Childcare worker
- Laboratory assistant
- Social service specialist
Again, most people who receive a bachelor’s in psychology do not actually end up working in the field. Less than a quarter of people who graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology go on to work as psychologists.
For psychology students who wish to learn more about their field, bachelor’s degrees can be used to apply for further studies in the field of psychology. While not all master’s and doctoral programs require an undergraduate degree in psychology, you will need a bachelor’s degree in a related field.
Master’s in Psychology
If you are interested in a career in psychology but not interested in investing in a PhD or PsyD, then a master’s in psychology may be the right choice for you. With a master’s degree in psychology, you can go on to earn a number of professional licenses that allow you to work independently in the field of psychology and in a variety of settings.
A master’s degree in psychology can be pursued by students who already hold a bachelor’s degree. Master’s programs provide the opportunity to delve deeper into the field of psychology, often in an area of specialization.
Most master’s programs take two to three years to complete. They can be terminal programs, designed to prepare students for a career at the master’s level, or in preparation for a doctoral degree.
Master’s-level careers in the field of psychology include the following:
- Clinical social worker
- School psychologist
- Mental health therapist
- Individual or family therapist
- Professional clinical counselor
- Mental health clinician
- Behavior analyst
- Human resources manager
- Forensic psychologist
These are common employment settings for master’s-level psychologists:
- Private businesses
- Government agencies
- Nonprofit organizations
Unless you obtain a professional licensure following completion of your master’s degree, you will not be able to provide clinical psychological services in a private practice setting. That being said, many students complete a master’s degree in psychology with the intention of obtaining a professional license.
While job opportunities in the field of psychology are not traditionally as vast for individuals with a master’s degree than as for people with a doctorate in psychology, the need for master’s-level clinicians is growing. More people each year are earning their master’s in psychology.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of master’s degrees in psychology conferred by postsecondary institutions in 2013 was 27,846, which was an increase from 16,539 degrees in 2000 and just 5,717 in 1970. As the need for mental health professionals of all educational levels grows, more institutions are offering master’s-level psychology degrees, and an increasing number of students are obtaining them.
Doctorate in Psychology
Students can apply for a doctoral program following a bachelor’s or related master’s degree, depending on the structure of the doctoral program. When most people think of a psychologist, it is someone who has completed a doctorate degree in psychology. Students who wish to study at this level can pursue a doctor of philosophy (PhD) in psychology or a doctor of psychology (PsyD).
The degrees sound similar by name. Both can lead to a career as a licensed and practicing psychologist, but there are a few key differences. In general, a PhD is the right choice for people who wish to work in clinical practice, academia, and research. A PsyD, on the other hand, focuses primarily on the clinical practice of psychology with little emphasis on research or academia.
Career options after completing each doctoral degree also vary. Psychology career options for someone with a PhD include the following:
- Clinical practice
- Scientific research
- Patient care
- Forensic psychology
- Organizational psychology
The primary career path for someone with a PsyD is in clinical practice, as that was the main focus of their studies and training. On average, doctoral programs take about four to five years to complete. A PsyD usually takes less time to complete, however, as fewer research and statistic courses are required.
Career Options With a Graduate Psychology Degree
There are many different professional fields you can enter with a graduate degree in psychology. Assuming you want to stay in the field of psychology or a related profession, these are career options for people with a graduate degree in psychology:
- Health psychology
- Clinical psychology
- Cognitive and perceptual psychology
- Social psychology
- Community psychology
- Developmental psychology
- Educational psychology
- Quantitative and measurement psychology
- Engineering psychology
- Environmental psychology
- Counseling psychology
- Forensic psychology
- Industrial/organizational psychology
- Neuropsychology and behavioral neuropsychology
- School psychology
- Experimental psychology
- Rehabilitation psychology
- Sport psychology
The above is not an exhaustive list of career paths for psychologists, explains the American Psychological Association (APA). There are hundreds of possible careers for people with psychology degrees.
How Much Can I Make With a Psychology Degree?
The amount you can make with your psychology degree depends on your educational level and which profession you enter. Private companies that hire psychologists are likely to pay more than school districts, for example, but you may have to sacrifice some sense of reward that psychologists working in schools often express experiencing.
Here is a selection of the highest paying psychology paths and their respective average annual salaries:
- Industrial-organizational psychologists: $102,530
- Neuropsychologist: $90,460
- Clinical psychologist: $81,330
- Engineering psychologist: $79,818
- Counseling psychologist: $72,540
- Forensic psychologist: $59,440
- School psychologist: $58,340
- Sport psychologist: $55,000
Positions are available in the above fields for people with master’s and doctorate degrees in psychology, though doctorate degrees are often required and will earn you a higher salary.
It is also important to keep in mind that many psychologists work in multiple settings. Many clinical psychologists, for example, also work as professors or conduct their own research. Psychologists who work in multiple settings are likely to garner higher annual income levels.
Additionally, salaries can vary greatly depending on the population you work with. Sport psychologists, for instance, earn an average of $55,000 per year, but those who work with professional athletes often earn six-figure salaries.
Applied Behavior Analysis
The field of applied behavior analysis (ABA) is an ever-growing career path for people with a master’s degree in psychology. As the number of autism diagnoses grows each year in the United States, the need for well-trained behavior therapists grows too.
ABA therapy is considered the primary treatment mode for people with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disorders. ABA therapists focus on increasing communication skills, boosting language abilities, improving social skills, and honing play, motor, and learning abilities in children and adults with developmental disabilities like autism.
With a master’s in psychology that includes behavior-analytic coursework, you can become a licensed board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) following completion of a practical experience curriculum and passing the national certification exam. Depending on your level of education, you could pursue certification as a BCBA, BCaBA (board certified assistant behavior analyst), or
BCBA-D (board certified behavior analyst – doctorate).
BCBAs lead highly rewarding careers in various settings, such as schools, hospitals, nonprofit organizations, and private practice. If you are wondering what to do with your master’s degree in psychology, consider exploring the challenging and growing field of applied behavior analysis.
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