By Randy Woods
The discipline of psychology is so wide and varied, it's impossible to find a one-size-fits-all degree to cover every possible career path. But various levels of undergraduate and post-graduate study can be pursued to match your interests and career goals.
Here is a quick run-down of the types of jobs that can be found for each major degree level:
Associate or Bachelor's Degrees
If you've completed a standard associate or bachelor's degree in psychology, you may find work as the following:
- Data analyst
- Case management specialist
- Career counselor
- Psychiatric technician
- Teach psychology at the high school level (but keep in mind many states also require a teaching certificate)
- Marketing research
In these types of settings:
- Correctional institutions
- Mental health facilities
- Vocational rehabilitation clinics
- Federal government agencies, provided that you've completed either 24 semester hours in psychology, or have a combination of classroom work and in-field experience
However, because these degrees are the least expensive in the psychology field and take the shortest amount of time to earn, competition for these jobs is expected to remain intense for the foreseeable future.
To earn a master's degree in psychology, students are generally required to devote at least two years to full-time graduate study to complete an original project for a master's thesis, and spend a predetermined number of hours gaining practical experience in an applied setting, such as a clinic.
There are generally fewer jobs options for those with master's degrees, but there is demand in the industrial-organizational sector of psychology, which is the study of human behavior in the workplace. Master's degree holders may find corporate jobs in the following professions:
- Psychological assistants or counselors
- Providing mental health services under the direct supervision of a licensed psychologist
- Work as a research assistant at a university or government agency.
Specialist degree (EdS or PsyS)
One option that's available between the master's and doctorate degrees is the specialist degree in psychology (EdS or PsyS). Those who pursue specialist degrees often enter the school psychology field. To reach this level, most students complete a minimum of two years of graduate study (that's equivalent to at least 60 semester hours) in education and psychology courses, plus a one-year, full-time internship. Most states require school psychologists to hold a specialist or doctoral degree, although some require only a master's degree.
Doctorate degree (PhD or PsyD)
Here's where the rubber hits the road for psychology work. To operate an independent practice as a clinical psychologist—those who can assess, diagnose, treat and prevent mental disorders—a doctorate degree is virtually essential. Earning a PhD in psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree can open doors to a wide range of career options:
- Clinical and counseling positions in universities
- Health care services
- Elementary and secondary schools
- Private companies
- Government agencies
A doctorate generally requires about five to seven years of full-time graduate study, often culminating with a dissertation based on original research. Clinical, counseling and school psychology students typically need an additional year of post-doctoral supervised experience before they can be certified. Many PhD courses in this field are research-intensive, involving quantitative experimental methods and often complex computer-based analysis (a love of statistics can be very helpful!). The similar PsyD degree, however, is focused more on applied clinical work and professional practice, and may not require a dissertation project.
Keep in mind that the critical-thinking and creative problem-solving skills required for a psychology degree can be applied to any number of fields.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook.