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Careers in Psychology

Graduate school and careers in psychology
Students with bachelor’s degrees have the transferable skills to start careers in a variety of fields, including direct care and mental health services. 

Internships, summer jobs and volunteer work are valuable to gain skills, experience and insight into potential career paths. Visit Career Services early in your undergraduate career for more information. However, many careers in Psychology do require a professional degree and license. Just as medical doctors and lawyers must continue their education by attending professional school and passing licensing exams, students seeking to become practicing psychologists must continue their education after completion of their bachelor’s degree.

Typical graduate school programs for psychology students
  • Master’s Degrees
    • Master's in Counseling: Counselors work with people on “everyday” problem behaviors
    • Master's in Marriage and Family Therapy: Therapists work not only with the affected person but also focus on the significant relationships in that person’s context.
    • Master's in Social Work: Social workers work with clients to increase their overall function. Social workers may work in schools, hospitals, hospice, or private practice. They often have a clinical license to treat people with psychological distress.
    • Master's in School Psychology: Psychologists administer and interpret assessments for problem behavior problem behaviors in a school setting.
    • Master's in Experimental Psychology: Provides strong research background which prepares students for careers in research or makes students more competitive for acceptance into Ph.D. programs.
    • Master's in Industrial Relations/Human Resources: Includes working with employee-management interactions and disputes, negotiations and labor policy. Often based on applied behavioral analysis principles.
  • Ph.D./Psy.D. Degrees
    • On research tracks, students can specialize in developmental, social, cognitive, biological, industrial/organizational, and other areas of Psychology. Students earning their Ph.D. in these areas are well suited for careers in research and/or as University faculty members. On clinical tracks, students still have a specialized area of research, but application of psychology to clinical settings is also emphasized. Students successfully completing these Ph.D. or Psy.D. programs (including an internship) become licensed practicing Psychologists.
  • Professional Degrees
    • Medical school: Medical schools seek psychology majors because of their background in ethics, research and critical thinking. Students seeking to become medical doctors should use their time as a psychology major to prepare for medical school. However, students wishing to pursue medical school after earning their bachelor’s degree should let their advisor know early so they can plan on taking the necessary prerequisites for medical school applications.
    • Psychiatry: Psychiatrists are different from clinical psychologists in that they are medical doctors and can prescribe medication. Students interested in psychiatry should plan on attending medical school and specializing in psychiatry.
    • Law school: Law schools seek psychology majors because of their background in ethics and knowledge of behavior and mental processes. Students planning to pursue law school after earning their bachelor’s degree should let their advisor know early so they can plan on taking the necessary prerequisites for law school applications.

Clinical psychology versus counseling psychology
Clinical psychology focuses on the treatment of psychological disorders. Clinical psychologists engage in the treatment of individuals likely needing hospitalization or long-term formal services. Clinical psychologists often conduct research that focuses on the effectiveness of therapies and outcomes.  

Counseling psychology focuses more on normative behaviors and the treatment of “everyday” problem behaviors rather than psychological disorders. Research and treatment focuses more on normative life events, such as career changes, divorce, remarriage, etc. 

Both clinical and counseling psychologists work in hospitals and health care settings, private practice and as professors and researchers. 

What kind of degree should I pursue for a career in psychology?
For most professions in psychology, either a B.A. or B.S. is acceptable. However, for careers that include more research activities, such as clinical psychology or a medical/health degree, a B.S. provides better training.