Psychology is one of the most popular college majors today. Here’s why it might be the right major for you.
If you’ve ever been curious why you—and those around you—act and think in seemingly inexplicable ways, you might consider majoring in psychology.
Many people, it turns out, are doing just that.
According to a Niche ranking, psychology was the third most popular major among college students in the classes of 2022 and 2023. The share of college students majoring in psychology now hovers around 6 percent, up from 4 to 5 percent in the 1980s.
And it’s easy to understand what the attraction is. A psychology major offers students an opportunity to learn more about themselves and others on a very personal level. It can also lead to an array of interesting careers, sometimes in unexpected places.
Let’s take a look at why students are choosing to study psychology, potential career paths for psychology majors, as well as what to expect if you choose this field as your major. You’re likely to be surprised by the choice that a degree in psychology can offer.
Why Should I Choose Psychology?
Psychology is the scientific study of the human mind and behavior. There are several reasons why so many college students opt to major in psychology:
- There is great potential for personal growth, as you learn more about the factors that influence human behavior and development. On a personal level, you will gain insight into yourself, but will also better understand your family, friends, classmates, and people you interact with in everyday life.For this reason alone, many students are drawn to this subject. A good grasp of psychology can be useful in a variety of situations, whether it be in resolving a conflict you are having with a friend, negotiating a raise at your job, or persuading your parents to help fund that new car you’ve been wanting.
- It can open up the door to many different types of careers. More than some other majors you might choose, a psychology degree can lead to many diverse career paths in sectors you may have never considered. You might decide to focus on psychology in a theoretical setting, as a researcher at a university, for example, or you might turn to applied research in a clinical or corporate setting. Other options include counseling, social work, human resources, marketing, workforce development, or education.
Specific career options range from advertising agent to career counselor, case manager, human resources specialist, lab assistant, market researcher, rehabilitation specialist, or youth counselor. Even if you choose a line of work that seems quite distant from the psychology field, chances are you will be able to put to use many of the concepts you learned as a psychology student.
- A bachelor’s degree in psychology can lay the groundwork for graduate level study in psychology, education, law, medicine, and business. If you opt to continue your education, your career path widens even more. It’s a major that can be applied to multiple fields, so your career options are wide-ranging.
What Would I Study as a Psychology Major?
Psychology programs usually include introductory courses such as:
- General psychology
- Research methods in psychology
- Statistical methods in psychology
- A lab course like psychology as a natural science
Foundational courses might include cognitive neuroscience, social psychology, developmental psychology, psychopathology, and the neurobiology of behavior. These introductory courses usually delve into the core types of psychology, the history of this field of study, and the relationship between the brain, behavior, and experience.
Psychology lab courses, on the other hand, give students experience conducting research, designing experiments, learning observation and measurement techniques, and analyzing behavioral data.
Once you’ve met the prerequisite requirements in the major, you’re free to take more specific courses. Examples of potential psychology elective courses include:
- Developmental psychology
- Learning and behavior
- Social psychology
- Theories of personality
- Drugs and behavior
- Affective neuroscience
- Child psychology
- Introduction to clinical psychology
Most schools offer course credit for independent research projects, too, although they often will require a certain GPA and approval of a student’s topic through the psychology department. Many schools will also require psychology students to take courses in math, social science, and physical science.
Is Psychology a Hard Major?
If you research this question, you’ll find a range of opinions on both sides of the question.
On one hand, it might be considered “hard” because students are required, as with any subject, to do lots of reading and analysis. In particular, many students may have difficulty with subjects like advanced mathematics, statistics, and research methods. You will also be expected to conduct experiments.
On the other hand, a high level of interest in a subject can make it easier to focus on and learn. If a student is deeply interested in how humans relate both individually and in groups, the coursework, reading and experimentation may be easier to get through, even when it involves more difficult subjects in science or math. Psychology also easily allows you to contextualize concepts you learn to real-life, which may also help with learning material.
What Jobs Are Available With a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology?
If you pursue a bachelor’s degree in this field, you can qualify for jobs in the human or social services sector. Typical jobs for psychology majors include:
- Career counselor
- Childcare worker
- Psychiatric technician
- Lab assistant
- Rehabilitation specialist
- Case manager
- Human resources assistant
- Market researcher
- Substance abuse counselor
- Probation or parole officer
- Sales representative
- Social service specialist
Because many of these jobs are in social services, candidates will be required to evaluate the needs of clients, keep accurate records and express empathy and compassion. These roles can be challenging as they are not typically well paid, and it can be discouraging to work with people who have severe needs.
However, it should be noted that many people who graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, never go on to apply their degree in the subject itself.
Psychology majors develop a number of skills which can be applied to many other occupations, particularly because of the amount of writing and research required. This means that career paths for psychology majors are wide open.
About three quarters of students earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology never pursue a graduate degree in psychology. Only about a quarter of psychology undergraduates actually end up working in psychology or a related field. Even so, many find they can apply what they learned as an undergrad to their field of choice.
Do You Need an Advanced Degree to Work in the Field of Psychology?
While you do not necessarily require an advanced psychology degree to find work, you will find your career options broaden, as well as the potential to earn more.
With more education comes the opportunity to help people in more substantial ways than you might with only a bachelor’s degree. Not only can you help people overcome the effects of trauma or deal with a mental illness, but you can help make advances toward better treatments for diseases, disorders or illnesses that affect mental health or cognitive function.
Potential jobs with a master’s degree in the field include:
- Program managers
- School psychologists
- Adjunct faculty members
- Licensed clinical social workers
- Adjunct instructors
- Medical social workers
- Mental health professionals
- UX Designer
- Academic advisors
Those interested in becoming a psychologist or psychiatrist require more education. For example, a psychologist needs a PhD or PsyD, while a psychiatrist must earn a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree.
The Final Word
If you’re psyched about choosing psychology as a major, you probably already know why. You want to help others. Choosing a psychology major can potentially give you the tools to do exactly that.