Is a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology Worth It?
Determining whether a psychology degree is the right educational path is a highly personal decision based on unique circumstances, such as financial needs and other obligations. Individuals must establish for themselves whether the time and money they'll invest in earning a bachelor's degree in psychology are worth the potential rewards. The following are some of the possible advantages and disadvantages to factor into the decision:
Psychology programs often build versatile, valuable skills. The coursework and assignments for most bachelor's-level psychology classes are designed to develop oral comprehension, verbal communication, analysis, and critical thinking abilities, which can be applied to almost any occupation.
Online learning gives students more degree options. By considering distance education programs, students have a better chance of finding the program that best fits their goals and budget without leaving home.
Graduates may experience difficulty finding work in the field of psychology with only a bachelor's degree. Most counseling or clinical positions require a master's or doctoral degree.
An online psychology major may have to work harder to build their network of peers. Without the ability to connect in person, online students may have to put more effort into establishing relationships with classmates and instructors.
Admission Requirements for an Online Bachelor's in Psychology
Psychology majors generally need to accumulate 120-124 credit hours, including general education courses, to earn a bachelor's degree. Most full-time students need four or slightly more years to complete all of the liberal arts, humanities, science, and major-related courses.
Admission requirements for a bachelor's program in psychology vary by college, but applicants often need to submit the following:
- A high school GPA of 2.8 or higher
- An application form
- Transcripts of previous courses
- SAT or ACT scores
- A personal statement or essay
- Letters of recommendation
- A list of extracurricular activities
Psychology Program Courses & Curriculum
The curriculum for psychology programs is designed to introduce the biological foundations, developmental perspectives, and social influences of human behavior and interaction. After completing several core courses that help establish a foundation for understanding psychology's basic principles, students can select from a number of elective courses, covering topics such as gender roles, conflict resolution, biopsychology, human sexuality, and death and dying. The following are some of the core courses that are often included in a bachelor's in psychology program.
Introduction to Psychology
This course provides a broad overview of the field of psychology and includes a wide range of topics. Coursework typically covers the history of psychology and its current role in society. Many topics that are briefly explored in this course are covered in greater depth in future courses, such as human development, learning, cognition, psychological disorders, and therapeutic approaches.
Examples of abnormal psychological conditions include schizophrenia as well as disorders involving anxiety and mood, substance use, eating, and dissociation. Coursework typically focuses on what causes these disorders as well as their clinical diagnosis, appropriate treatments, and overall impact on patients' family and friends.
In this course, students generally explore the mental process of acquiring knowledge. Topics may include using the senses to perceive information, thought, problem-solving, and decision-making.
History and Systems of Psychology
This course typically builds on introductory courses by exploring the history of psychology in greater detail. Students discover how the major systems of psychology — structuralism, functionalism, behaviorism, psychoanalysis, and Gestalt psychology — developed. Coursework may also cover the evolution of psychological practice in the U.S.
Sometimes divided into two semesters, a course on lifespan development looks at how individuals grow and develop from conception through multiple stages and finally to death. Specifically, coursework covers common issues such as personality, emotion, learning, behavior, and human interaction at each of the major life stages.
Research Methods and Data Analysis
This hands-on course focuses on developing research skills used in many occupations related to the social sciences. After presenting research methods and theories, coursework will require students to apply these methods to simulated real-world situations by designing psychological studies or experiments. Projects generally require students to evaluate and present their research findings as well.
Most bachelor's programs end with a capstone course in the final semester. The purpose of a capstone project is two-fold: It gives students an opportunity to demonstrate what they've learned in previous courses, and it allows students to create a significant asset for their portfolios, which they can use as part of their job search efforts. Project requirements typically ask students to conduct research and apply both psychological theory and data in order to address real-world scenarios, such as drug addiction, gender issues, and personal development.
Most psychology bachelor's programs end with a capstone course, which allows students to create a significant asset for their portfolios.
Some programs also require students to fulfill a one-semester internship, which may involve approximately 120 hours of work in a mental health setting. Internships offer opportunities to gain practical experience in the field.
Some programs allow students to select an area of psychology for specialized study. Psychology concentrations typically aim to foster a unique set of skills and area knowledge, thus qualifying graduates for distinct careers based on their education. Below is a list of concentrations commonly offered in psychology programs.
This concentration primarily involves learning about the scientific processes that go into diagnosing and treating patients with various psychological disorders. It may be of particular interest to those who intend to continue their education and become therapists or clinical psychologists. This concentration focuses on how to work with people and families who are experiencing illness. Coursework covers how therapists can help patients develop coping strategies, apply psychological theories in family settings, and support individuals with mental health challenges associated with their illness. Students who plan to earn a master's degree and become licensed therapists may be interested in pursuing this concentration. Students selecting this concentration take classes on how to help individuals recover from or cope with a serious illness or injury. Some programs may also include electives that focus on substance use recovery. This educational path is designed for students who plan to earn a master's degree in order to become a licensed rehabilitation counselor.
This specialization focuses on supporting students and professionals in educational settings. Coursework may cover early child development, classroom intervention, and proper assessment administration. This concentration helps prepare graduates for a master's program in school counseling. In this concentration, students typically learn about the psychology of community-level behavior. Some take classes in social justice to better understand how cultural, political, and economic factors help shape community values. Graduates may also need a graduate degree for certain occupations in public health and social services.
B.S. vs. B.A. in Psychology
Bachelor's programs in psychology usually result in one of two degrees — a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or a Bachelor of Science (B.S.). While the two types of degrees share many core courses and topics of study, each has a distinct emphasis that may influence which a student might want to pursue.
B.A. programs generally look at psychology from the perspective of the social sciences, which is the study of society, the impact of people's behavior on social issues, and the relationships among individuals. With this emphasis, graduates are more likely to be prepared for careers in counseling, clinical psychology, and other occupations that center on human behavior and interaction. Conversely, B.S. programs tend to focus on research, data, and statistical analysis. The skills and knowledge developed through this type of program may be more aligned with occupations in research and data analysis.
Accreditation is one of the most important characteristics to consider when choosing a college or university. Students must be enrolled in a regionally or nationally accredited program to qualify for federal financial aid. Enrollment in a regionally accredited school may also be required to transfer to another school, be accepted into a master's program, or obtain licensure for a specific occupation. The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation each offer a searchable database of accredited schools.
To obtain institutional accreditation, all of a school's academic programs, faculty members, business operations, and other services must meet rigorous standards of academic excellence. In addition to earning recognition for the institution as a whole, schools can also seek accreditation for individual degree programs. However, there is no program-level accrediting agency for bachelor's degrees in psychology. Only doctoral-level programs in psychology are evaluated by the American Psychological Association (APA).
Scholarships for Psychology Students
Online students enrolled in accredited bachelor's programs in psychology generally have the same access to financial aid as on-campus students. To apply for financial assistance, all students should submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Even if they think they may not be eligible, enrollees may qualify for government/school grants and scholarships — which they don't have to repay — or low interest loans. The following is a sampling of scholarships available to online psychology students that are funded by private organizations and therefore require separate applications.
The APF is the grant-making affiliate of the APA. Undergraduate psychology students may apply for a wide selection of APF grants, scholarships, and fellowships, with awards ranging from $1,500-$50,000. Undergraduates from disadvantaged backgrounds who are planning careers in behavioral science research may be qualified for this NIH scholarship. The award includes up to $20,000 per academic year in scholarship money, a summer internship at the NIH, and at least one year of full-time employment at the NIH after graduation. Each year, the Psi Chi International Honor Society in Psychology provides eight undergraduate members with $3,000 scholarships. The organization also provides eight research grants worth up to $3,500. Administered by the APA, these scholarships of $5,000 each are awarded to psychology undergraduates who demonstrate both financial need and academic excellence.