What can you do with a bachelor’s degree in psychology? Like this title, the actual answer is complicated

Retrieved from American Psychological Association, https://www.apa.org/ed/precollege/psn/2018/01/bachelors-degree

 
 
By R. Eric Landrum, PhD

Stop me if you have already heard this one. Psychology is one of the most popular undergraduate majors in the U.S.; in the last year the data are available (2014-2015), 117,557 bachelor’s degrees in psychology were awarded. Said another way, in the past nine years, 1 million individuals received psychology baccalaureates (National Center for Education Statistics, 2017).

Asking the question “what can you do with a bachelor’s degree in psychology?” is a very relevant question to a lot of people. Allow me to assure you from the start that if someone tells you the answer to that question is “nothing,” that answer is patently false. About 25 percent of psychology baccalaureates go to graduate school in psychology, about 18 percent go on for more education but not in psychology, and 57 percent are workforce graduates (Lin, Christidis & Stamm, 2017).

If no one was getting a job with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, that tidbit of information would have made the news by now and I suspect the popularity of the major (as evidenced by annual number of graduates) would decrease substantially. But a quick, short answer, such as “nothing,” is a blurb and a sound bite — easy to understand yet meaningless. The actual answer is much more complicated and nuanced, and it goes like this — the psychology bachelor’s degree qualifies a person for a large number of jobs, but the degree does not uniquely qualify a person for any particular job.

Huh?

First, let’s start with the large number of jobs part. Below you can see the Holy Grail list of potential jobs with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. I don’t know where this list started, perhaps with Marky Lloyd and/or Drew Appleby, curated over time by Paul Hettich and/or Jane Halonen, but it seems now that I am the curator of “the list.” 

Activities Director Labor Relations Manager
Admissions Evaluator Loan Officer
Advertising Sales Representative Management Analyst
Alumni Director Market Research Analyst
Animal Trainer Occupational Analyst
Benefits Manager Patient Resources Reimbursement Agent
Career/Employment Counselor Personnel Recruiter
Career Information Specialist Police Officer
Caseworker Polygraph Examiner
Child Development Specialist Preschool Teacher
Child Welfare/Placement Caseworker Probation/Parole Officer
Claims Supervisor Project Evaluator
Coach Psychiatric Aide/Attendant
Community Organization Worker Psychiatric Technician
Community Worker Psychological Stress Evaluator
Computer Programmer Psychosocial Rehabilitation Specialist (PSR)
Conservation Officer Public Relations Representative
Correctional Treatment Specialist Purchasing Agent
Corrections Officer Real Estate Agent
Criminal Investigator (FBI and other) Recreation Leader
Customer Service Representative Supervisor Recreation Supervisor
Data Base Administrator Research Assistant
Data Base Design Analyst Retail Salesperson
Department Manager Sales Clerk
Disability Policy Worker Social Services Aide
Disability Case Manager Substance Abuse Counselor
Employee Health Maintenance Program Specialist Systems Analyst
Employee Relations Specialist Technical Writer
Employment Counselor Veterans Contact Representative
Employment Interviewer Veterans Counselor
Financial Aid Counselor Victims’ Advocate
Fund Raiser Vocational Training Teacher
Health Care Facility Administrator Volunteer Coordinator
Human Resource Advisor Writer
Information Specialist  
Job Analyst  

To say that a bachelor’s degree in psychology prepares you for no job is simply ludicrous. But let’s think about the more nuanced part — a bachelor’s degree in psychology does not exclusively entitle a person to any of the jobs in this list. Using O*NET from the U.S. Department of Labor (2017) for the following bulleted data, allow me to explain what I mean by psychology’s lack of exclusivity.

  • For a job like animal trainer, the vast majority of individuals with this job have a high school diploma (or less) as their highest educational attainment. So a bachelor’s degree (in any field) is not necessarily a prerequisite requirement.
  • In order to be a claims supervisor (claims examiner) for an insurance company, nearly 70 percent of those individuals have a bachelor’s degree. This type of position can be filled by individuals from many different majors.
  • To serve as a corrections officer, 89 percent of individuals in this career have a high school diploma or equivalent. Psychology majors can do well in this area, but as you can probably understand, so do criminal justice majors, sociology majors, and others.
  • Thirty percent of labor relations specialists hold bachelor’s degrees, and 25 percent hold master’s degrees — a psychology major could certainly attain this job, but will sometimes be competing with others with higher educational attainment.
  • Technical writers typically require some college (35 percent associate’s degree and 33 percent bachelor’s degree), but as you can imagine, a psychology major competing for this position would also be competing with individuals who were English majors in college.

It is my hope that these examples illustrate the nuance and complexity of discussing career options for psychology workforce graduates. There are many, many job possibilities, but there is also much competition awaiting in the workplace due to the lack of exclusivity. Psychology majors, no matter what the career trajectory, need to be thinking about, cultivating and honing their skill sets; in that regard, I highly encourage you to review the works of Miller and Carducci (2015) and Strohmetz et al. (2015). Do not be passive about your future, hoping that it “all comes out in the wash” — be forcefully empowered to be your own best ally and advocate for a satisfying and successful future.

References

Lin, L., Christidis, P., & Stamm, K. (2017, October). The path to becoming a psychologist.Monitor on Psychology, 48(9), 17.

Miller, M.J., & Carducci, B.J. (2015). Student perceptions of knowledge, skills, ad abilities desired by potential employers of psychology majors. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 1, 38-47.  doi:10.1037/stl0000015.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2017). Degrees in psychology conferred by postsecondary institutions, by level of degree and sex of student: Selected years, 1945-50 through 2014-15 [Table 325.80]. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d16/tables/dt16_325.80.asp?current=yes.

Strohmetz, D.B., Dolinsky, B, Jhangiani, R.S., Posey, D.C., Hardin, E.E., Shyu, V., & Klein, E. (2015). The skillsful major: Psychology curricula in the 21st century. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 1, 200-207.  doi:10.1037/stl0000037.

U.S. Department of Labor. (2017). O*NET Online. Retrieved from https://www.onetonline.org/.

About the author

R. Eric LandrumR. Eric Landrum is a professor of psychology at Boise State University, receiving his PhD in cognitive psychology from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. His research interests center on the educational conditions that best facilitate student success as well as the use of scholarship of teaching and learning strategies to advance the efforts of scientist-educators. He has over 400 professional presentations at conferences and published over 25 books/book chapters, and has published over 75 professional articles in scholarly, peer-reviewed journals. He has worked with over 300 undergraduate research assistants and taught over 13,000 students in 25 years at Boise State. During Summer 2008, he led an American Psychological Association working group at the National Conference for Undergraduate Education in Psychology studying the desired results of an undergraduate psychology education. During the October 2014 Educational Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., Eric was presented with a Presidential Citation from then APA President Nadine Kaslow for his outstanding contributions to the teaching of psychology. He is a member of APA, a fellow in APA’s Div. 2 (Society for the Teaching of Psychology or STP), served as STP secretary (2009-2011). During 2014, Eric served as president of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology; for 2016-2017, he served as president of the Rocky Mountain Psychological Association; and Eric is currently president of Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology.

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