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Bachelor’s Degrees in Psychology: Education and Career Options
For many, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology is the first step to beginning a rewarding career in the field. While most psychology roles require master’s or doctoral degrees, a bachelor’s is flexible in that it can be used to find mid-level roles or prepare for further education.
You might have read articles on psychology degrees, that tell you that getting a master’s degree in psychology is almost mandatory for certain specialties of practice.
But what if you aren’t interested in pursuing a higher degree? What if you’ve finished your 4-year psychology degree and are eager to move into the workplace? What on earth will you be qualified to do in your chosen field of study? You may be surprised to learn that there are many intriguing—and lucrative—positions for a psychology major with only a bachelor in psychology degree.
So, how do you pursue this degree and what can you do once you graduate? Use the guide below to get answers to these questions and more.
What Is a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology?
Those with a desire to understand human behavior and help others overcome challenges may find themselves interested in a psychology degree. These programs teach students how to evaluate and create treatment plans for those dealing with issues such as family problems, substance abuse, stress, depression, and much more. A bachelor’s degree in psychology is also a strong foundation if you choose to earn your master’s or doctorate later on.
Though they may have similarities, a bachelor’s in psychology is different from the degrees for fields such as social work, human services, and other related areas. Each field has its own distinct focus and methodology. For example, students in social work will study how to identify the services that individuals need, while a psychology degree teaches you to act as one of those specific services.
A degree in psychology is also different from a degree in psychiatry. Psychologists focus on the emotional and mental suffering of patients while providing behavioral intervention. Psychiatrists attend medical school and work to identify and monitor patient treatment plans through medication.
Are BA and BS degrees in psychology different?
Programs vary based on the institution you choose, but there are no major differences between a Bachelor of Arts (BA) and a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Psychology. The titles of these degrees most frequently come down to the division of the school in which the program best fits and the general education classes you’ll take.
Who are psychology bachelor’s degrees intended for?
Bachelor’s degrees in psych are designed for students who wish to take on mid-level roles in the field. However, psychology students often use these degrees as a stepping stone to pursue a master’s or a doctorate. In most states, a doctoral degree is required in order to become officially licensed as a psychologist.
Careers with a Bachelor’s in Psychology
There are many job opportunities you can consider with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, you just won’t be a “working” psychologist. The degree is incredibly flexible and can take you down a variety of career paths.
These roles work with individuals to identify their skills and interests in order to help them select a career path.
Some states require career counselors to hold a license, though often these credentials can only be obtained with a master’s degree.
Health educators teach people about ways to improve their wellness and also develop and implement strategies that promote the health of entire communities.
Many employers will require you to have the credential of being a Certified Health Education Specialist. This is done through the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing and involves passing a 165-question exam.
Human resources specialist or manager
Roles in human resources can be found in nearly every industry. These positions coordinate administrative functions within an organization, oversee recruiting and hiring, handle issues that arise among staff members, and act as a link between employees and management.
Human resources specialists can often enter into their roles without prior experience and earn an average of $67,760 per year. Human resources managers typically work their way up the ladder after years of experience and earn an average of $129,570.
Some jobs, especially managerial roles, will require related work experience.
Rehab specialists work with clients to overcome the personal and psychological effects of physical, mental, emotional, or developmental disabilities. They can work in a variety of settings including rehab facilities, nursing homes, and youth organizations.
Some positions may require certification or a license, though these credentials can often only be obtained with a master’s degree.
Social and community service manager
These roles coordinate and supervise social service programs for nonprofit organizations or government agencies.
Many roles will require that you’ve had a set number of supervised hours of fieldwork.
These professionals ensure the rights of underserved classes of people who may have difficulties speaking up for themselves or finding access to mental health and other healthcare services they need.
The BLS lists the national average at $61,750 for general social workers.
You need to meet your state’s licensing requirements in order to practice.
Substance abuse counselor
They teach clients how to alter their attitudes and beliefs, and develop strategies to overcome denial and rationalization in the hope of achieving full recovery. Plus, the job growth for this field is very positive over the next decade.
The BLS reports average salaries at $49,950.
You’ll need to earn clinical hours, pass a background check, and get licensed in order to practice.
Or, Consider These Career Areas
Shelly K. Schwartz, in an article called “Working Your Degree,” reported that the top 10 occupations that employ students with only a bachelor’s degree in psychology include some of the above. Other areas you might consider are:
- Mid-level managers, executives, and administrators
- Social Work
- Management-related occupations
- Administrative jobs
- Insurance, real estate, and business services
- Registered nurse, pharmacist, therapist, and physician’s assistant
- Accountant, auditor, and other financial specialists
Typical Degree & Career Paths in Psychology
Though you can get your start in the psychology field with a bachelor’s degree, most professionals eventually pursue advanced education. Higher degrees, particularly doctorates, can prepare you for roles such as a clinical, educational, or forensic psychologist. You could also go on to become a psychology professor or researcher. Though varied by state, holding a doctorate is often required to gain a license to work in these roles.
Can I apply existing college credits toward a bachelor’s degree?
Usually, yes. If you hold an associate’s degree in psychology, many programs will allow you to transfer those credits over to earning your bachelor’s. This could mean completing your bachelor’s degree in as little as 1 1/2–2 years.
However, if it’s been a significant amount of time since you’ve earned these credits, colleges may not consider your knowledge up-to-date. In this case, you’ll need to pursue a bachelor’s degree in the traditional 4-year format.
Academic Requirements Before Starting a Bachelor’s in Psychology
You’ll need a high school diploma or GED before you can pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Beyond that, each school will have its own individual requirements regarding GPA, previous education, letters of recommendation, and personal essays.
Is there a GPA requirement?
Some psychology programs will admit students with a GPA of at least 2.5, however many require a minimum of 3.0.
Do you need to take the SAT or ACT?
While it depends on the school, most bachelor’s degree programs require you to achieve certain scores on the SAT or ACT. Most schools don’t express a preference and taking both tests can allow you to compare scores and choose the one that’s best. Many students at selective colleges submit scores for both exams, which can possibly make you more competitive depending on your scores.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor’s Degree?
A traditional bachelor’s degree takes 4 years to complete. Some programs might be part-time and take longer, while others might have accelerated options through transfer credits or online programs.
The Bachelor’s in Psychology Curriculum
Classes will vary depending on your school, but all psychology students must study foundational topics that cover human behavior, development, personality, sociology, health, and more. In additional to psychology classes, you’ll likely need to take general courses such as writing, communication, and statistics.
What core classes are involved?
Core classes will most likely include variations of the following:
- Cognitive psychology: These courses cover human thinking and dive into topics such as memory, emotion, decision making, problem solving, and knowledge acquisition.
- Abnormal psychology: In these courses, you’ll study the issues involved in psychological and behavioral disorders including anxiety, dissociation, depression, substance abuse, personality disorders, and more.
- Psychological assessment: These courses teach you how to identify an individual’s personality traits, cognitive abilities, and values. You’ll learn how to apply these methods to a variety of healthcare, workplace, and social settings.
Number of course credits
Schools generally require at least 120 credits to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. Some students, especially those who won’t be attending on a full-time basis, may evaluate schools on a cost-per-credit basis. Applying any relevant credits from an associate’s degree may significantly reduce your cost.
Can you specialize in an area of interest?
Yes. There are concentrations available in a wide variety of subjects, some that are more versatile and some that are more specific. These concentrations are often studied through a mix of classroom work, fieldwork, and research. Popular specializations include:
- Child psychology
- Clinical psychology
- Educational psychology
- Forensic psychology
- Organizational psychology
- School psychology
- Sports psychology
Is an Internship Required for an Bachelor’s Degree?
Though this varies by school, earning a bachelor’s degrees in psychology might require certain credits or hours of an internship. Many full-time students opt to seek out summer internships in settings like counseling centers and research labs.
Can You Get an Online Psychology Degree?
Yes, however most psychology degrees will require practical experience in some form.
It’s possible to find bachelor’s degrees that are entirely online. These cover the same curriculum as on-site courses and offer flexibility to those who are working or taking care of children. Keep in mind, however, that many online courses will still require hands-on experience in the form of lab work or internships. If you find an online course that lets you take your classes at your own speed, you might be able to earn your degree sooner.
Students who want a more traditional college experience can find plenty of programs that allow them to take all of their classes on campus. You might still be able to have flexibility if the school offers courses at night or on the weekends.
An increasingly popular option for degrees of all levels is the hybrid program. This blends a mix of online and on-campus courses. You may take most of your classes online and go to campus just 1 or 2 times a week. As with entirely online courses, you might be able to accelerate your degree if classes can be taken at your own pace.
On top of accelerating your bachelor’s degree through online courses or transfer credits, you may also be able to accelerate a master’s degree. With dual degree options, you can begin your master’s-level coursework while you’re still working on your bachelor’s. This can allow you to save time and money by earning your master’s with as little as half of the required credits.
Financial Aid for Psychology Students
There are several different types of financial aid available for students seeking a bachelor’s degree. The first step is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which determines how much assistance the U.S. government thinks you’re qualified to receive. Only students at accredited schools are eligible to receive federal aid. This aid can come in the form of loans, grants, or work-study stipends. You can also apply for private loans through banks and other institutions.
You may also qualify to receive scholarships or grants based on academic merit or other criteria. You can find scholarships that are open to all types of students, as well as ones designed for particular people based on things such as ethnicity, background, military service, and more.
Does Psychology Qualify for Student Loan Forgiveness?
There’s a variety of forgiveness programs that can help you lower or relieve some or all of your loans, though you must meet certain criteria. Through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, you must have direct loans and secure full-time employment at a government or nonprofit agency. Many states also have their own loan forgiveness programs with their own unique requirements.
Professional Organizations for Psychology
Becoming a member of a professional organization can provide great opportunities to network, gain new education, and obtain certification. Some prominent groups for those with bachelor’s degrees include:
- The American Psychological Association (APA): As the largest organization of psychologists in America, the APA provides professional development opportunities, publishes educational magazines and journals, and offers chances to attend conferences and other events.
- The American Educational Research Association (AERA): The AERA is dedicated to advancing knowledge about educational research and evidence-based policies, while strengthening the communication between researchers and policymakers. They offer access to professional advancement, cutting-edge research, and special events.
- The Association for Psychological Science (APS): The APS fosters the advancement of scientific psychology across multiple disciplines and geographic borders. They advocate for the increased use of psychological science in public policy and provide members with the latest research through journals and conventions.
Just remember, since psychology is the study of human behavior and organizational behavior, a 4-year degree in the field offers you a good understanding of people, their motivations, and why they act as they do. In addition, psychology teaches students to think critically as well as creatively, so graduates generally have excellent communications skills. This kind of versatility is desirable in professions that demand interacting with other human beings, which opens the door to most professions.