Psychology is a popular field among undergraduates: Each year, American universities award more than 100,000 such degrees. Many people think of a BS in Psychology degree as a stepping stone to an advanced degree and a move toward a career path as a psychologist or a psychiatrist. However, a bachelor’s degree in psychology can stand alone and open the door to a variety of ambitious and rewarding careers, such as working as a substance abuse counselor, a social services case worker, or a psychology research assistant.
What Is Psychology?
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines psychology as ‘the study of the mind and behavior.’ They broaden the definition, in modern usage, by saying that psychology is ‘now a diverse scientific discipline comprising several major branches of research (e.g., experimental, biological, cognitive, lifespan developmental, personality, social), as well as several subareas of research and applied psychology (e.g., clinical, industrial/organizational, school and educational, human factors, health, neuropsychology, cross-cultural).’ Psychology differs from neuroscience, which deals with the human nervous system rather than the mind.
Psychology as a discipline continues to evolve, but it’s no exaggeration to say that it has applications that affect virtually everyone.
Most undergraduate psychology degree programs feature a diverse array of coursework. Some of the most common courses include:
- Intro to Professional Issues and Ethics in Psychology — The study of the mind brings with it a number of ethical concerns. This course touches on those issues as well as professional behavior and conflicts of interest while practicing in the field of psychology.
- Abnormal Psychology — Abnormal psychology deals with people who act outside of the social norm. This might be someone with a much higher–or lower–IQ than the norm or someone who acts in antisocial or potentially criminal ways, such as someone with antisocial personality disorder.
- Social Psychology — This is a branch of psychology that studies human interactions, their origins, and their effects on individuals.
- Cultural Psychology — Cultural psychology studies how a person’s culture affects their interactions and their psychological processes.
- Cognitive Psychology — This branch of psychology explores how people think and how emotions, thinking, creativity, and problem-solving all interact.
Benefits of Pursuing a Psychology Major
Earning a BS in Psychology offers numerous benefits, including:
A degree in psychology can help you better understand yourself, your family, and other people you interact with regularly. By understanding your own and others’ motivations, you can better forge productive and harmonious relationships. Your coursework in psychology can also help you to be more compassionate and empathetic toward others.
Graduates with an undergraduate degree in psychology have numerous career options, including social work, which we will discuss in more detail below. Of course, the options–and the salary–increase if a student chooses to pursue graduate studies and becomes licensed as a psychologist. Training to be a psychiatrist requires enrollment in medical school.
Impact on Society
With a degree in psychology, you can make a difference in your community. With a career as a case manager or a substance abuse counselor, you can affect individuals in a positive way and help them overcome extreme challenges such as addiction, mental illness, and homelessness.
Preparation for Graduate Studies
An undergraduate degree in psychology is, of course, a perfect stepping stone toward an advanced degree in psychology and an eventual career in clinical psychology. However, the coursework covered in a psychology program is also applicable to advanced studies in fields such as sales, business management, political science, and teaching.
Considerations and Challenges of Pursuing a Psychology Major
As with any degree program, there are also a few challenges associated with a BS in Psychology. Consider the following:
Rigor of Coursework
Many students ask, ‘Is psychology a hard major?’ The answer depends on your level of commitment to your studies and whether you’re self-motivated. The coursework for a psychology degree requires a great deal of reading, as well as strong communication skills and a willingness for personal introspection.
Studying for a psychology degree can be emotionally taxing. Learning about the mind can lead to discovering more about yourself and your family and what makes you ‘tick.” That process can be upsetting for some students.
Earning a four-year degree can be expensive. However, the cost of a BS in Psychology degree is similar to the cost of any four-year undergraduate degree. It varies depending on the time you take to complete your degree, the university you choose to attend, and, in some cases, whether you attend a local university or one outside of your state.
Pursuing a degree via online learning can be somewhat less expensive, as you can save money on on-campus room and board, commuting costs, and parking. What’s more, the flexible class and coursework schedule makes it easier to hold a job while you are earning your degree, making it an excellent option for those who want to study psychology.
Jobs for Psychology Majors
There are a number of careers students can pursue with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Below are a few suggestions:
A case manager works for a community or social services organization and interacts and works as an advocate for the many people who use the organization’s services. This might include child services, senior services, or food assistance. Case managers usually have an office base but spend most of their time outside of the office.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for a case manager is $74,000. Entry-level social services workers may earn $44,000 to $49,000, according to Zip Recruiter. They estimate the number of jobs in this field to increase by 20,400 through 2031. This is a growth rate of 12 percent, which is much faster than the average rate of job growth in the US. Of course, your actual salary will depend on various factors, including your experience, the company or organization you work for, and your location.
Mental Health Technician
A mental health technician aids and cares for individuals with mental illnesses or developmental disabilities. They work in psychiatric hospitals, long-term care facilities, and other health care settings.
According to the BLS, the average annual salary for a medical health technician is $36,230. They estimate the number of jobs in this field to increase by nearly 139,000 by 2030. That’s nine percent faster than the average rate of job growth in the US.
Psychology research assistants help collect and collate data for psychiatric studies. They also work with study designers to formulate survey questions. Psychology research assistants often spend a lot of time outside of the office, talking to people in their homes or in public forums.
According to Zippia, the average annual salary for a psychology research assistant is around $50,000. They estimate the number of jobs in this field to increase faster than average in the coming years.
Substance Abuse Counselor
A substance abuse counselor helps advise individuals who are dealing with alcoholism, addiction, or other substance use disorders, as well as those in recovery. Substance abuse counselors work for treatment facilities, mental health centers, and community health centers. Some even go into private practice.
According to the BLS, the average annual salary for a substance abuse counselor is $48,250. They estimate the number of jobs in this field to increase by more than 250,000 by 2030. This is a growth rate of 22 percent, which is much faster than the average rate of job growth in the US.
Human resource (HR) assistants help the HR department of an organization resolve issues among employees and maintain record keeping about employee compensation, benefits, hiring, recruiting, and conduct. HR assistants generally work in an office environment, but they may be required to travel to hiring events, such as job fairs and college recruitment fairs.
According to the BLS, the average annual salary for an HR assistant is $44,480. They estimate the number of jobs in this field to increase by more than 58,000 by 2030. This is a growth rate of nine percent, which is faster than the average rate of job growth in the US.
Earning a BS in psychology at Johnson & Wales University
Johnson & Wales University (JWU) offers a comprehensive, 100% career-focused Bachelor of Science in Psychology degree program. This four-year program exposes students to ‘psychological theories and how (these theories) explain human behavior, as well as professional and ethical practices, social and cultural diversity and psychological research methods.’ The program prepares students for one of the careers we’ve discussed above or to continue their education by seeking a master’s degree in psychology, aligning with their career goals. In addition, financial assistance is available for qualified students in this degree program.