The Benefits of a Psychology Degree

By Jenni Jacobsen | Published 6/8/2021
Jenni Jacobsen

Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker, university faculty member, and health and fitness professional with an interest in the relationship between physical health and mental wellness. She has experience as a writer and researcher on numerous topics within psychology and the social sciences, and she is in the dissertation process for a doctorate in psychology.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, psychology is one of the most popular college majors, with 117,000 bachelor's degrees in psychology awarded in 2016-2017. It is not surprising that psychology is popular, because it can lead to a variety of different career paths, as well as advanced study in psychology or counseling, such as a master's degree in counseling or doctorate in psychology.

Common reasons for pursuing a bachelor's in psychology include a passion for the field of psychology and an interest in learning more about the human mind and behavior. Some students may be attracted to psychology degrees because they want to continue their education beyond the bachelor's level to obtain a master's or doctoral degree in psychology or counseling, and practice as therapists or psychologists at the clinical level.

Some students may even use a psychology degree as preparation for admittance to medical school, given the recent shift toward promoting behavioral change in order to improve health. Regardless of your reasons for choosing a psychology degree, you can expect to derive a range of practical benefits that can be applied to your career after you graduate.

Skills Gained from a Psychology Degree

With your degree, you can expect to develop both soft and hard skills that you can apply to psychology careers immediately following graduation, including the following:

Communication: Undergraduate psychology curriculum teaches students to become effective communicators. In fact, research shows that psychology students who take applied coursework can learn to become more empathetic in their communication, which can allow them to understand another person's point of view and communicate more effectively when helping others.

Researching: Through the course of their education, psychology students become skilled in conducting, analyzing, and understanding quantitative and qualitative research. This is an invaluable skill in the job market, as it is critical for a candidate to be able to carry out a process and analyze the results.

Critical Thinking: Since psychology is based upon the analysis of research, a degree in this field also helps students to develop strong critical thinking skills. This is valuable because critical thinking is one of the top abilities that employers desire in candidates. Critical thinking skills allow psychology graduates to carry out important functions, like conceptualizing outcomes, finding errors in a data set, and effectively identifying solutions to complex problems in the workplace. Critical thinking skills also help students to develop problem-solving abilities.

Knowledge of Human Behavior: Psychology courses focus on theories of human behavior, allowing students to learn why people behave the way they do and how to help people make changes to their behavior. This technical knowledge prepares students to work in fields including education, mental health, and addiction, where behavioral change may be the focus.

Health Promotion: Concepts from psychology can help students understand what motivates people to change their behavior, including health-related lifestyle choices like diet, exercise, and smoking. This skill can be applied in settings in which the goal is to improve human health, such as positions in healthcare organizations or fitness and recreation facilities.

Most Valuable Aspects of a Psychology Degree

There are a few key ways you can get the most out of your psychology bachelor's degree and boost your skill set to make you an even stronger candidate in the post-graduate job market.

Participation in Research: Students who have the opportunity to carry out their own research projects will develop valuable skills that will prepare them for the workplace or advanced study in psychology.

Internships: Internships provide real-world work experience in psychology, so graduates can transfer the skills from their education into practical settings. Students benefit from choosing an internship in their area of interest. For example, a student interested in mental health case management should seek internship opportunities at a community mental health clinic, whereas a student interested in the human resources side of psychology should seek internships in this field.

Certifications or Licensure: Some programs may offer students the opportunity to become certified as drug and alcohol counselors, or provide certificates in focused areas that make candidates more attractive to employers. For example, some universities offer specializations and certificates in counseling, behavioral analysis, or industrial/organizational psychology.

The Expected Return on Investment of a Psychology Degree

Obtaining a psychology degree is an investment in your career and future, but it can be costly, so it is helpful to look at the return-on-investment.

An undergraduate degree in general leads to $630,000 more in median lifetime earnings for women, and $900,000 in lifetime earnings for men, when compared to individuals with just a high school diploma.

Furthermore, consider the fact that the average salary of individuals with a high school diploma is $781 per week, which translates to $40,612 per year. When you compare that to the median mid-career salary of $58,000 per year for psychology graduates, it becomes clear that a bachelor's in psychology leads to significantly higher earnings.

Promotions and career advancement are other examples of the financial return on investment of a psychology degree. Having a bachelor's degree allows you to advance your career, and it may help you to win a promotion, especially if you are competing against others without a college degree. A psychology degree opens the door to job opportunities beyond those that you would have without a degree.

Salary for Psychology Grads by Degree Level

Careers for Psychology Majors

When selecting a college major, one of the most important factors to consider is whether your degree will lead to a job or boost your career. A bachelor's degree in psychology opens the door to a wide range of career opportunities. Some of the most common jobs for psychology majors according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics are listed below.

Social and Human Service Assistants

Sometimes called case managers, social and human service assistants work alongside professionals like counselors and social workers to help clients get the help or services they need. People in this line of work may assist clients with accessing benefits, such as housing assistance, or meet with them between appointments with their counselor to monitor their progress and ensure that treatment is working for them. The median salary for this profession is $35,960 per year, and job openings are expected to grow much faster than average.

Probation Officers

A psychology degree provides graduates with knowledge of human behavior and skills in promoting behavioral change, making it strong preparation for a career as a probation officer. Probation officers work in the criminal justice system and provide rehabilitation to offenders to reduce their likelihood of committing future crimes. A probation officer may develop treatment plans for offenders, refer them to services in the community, and monitor their activities to ensure they remain in compliance with laws. The median salary for a probation officer is $55,690 per year.

Substance Abuse Counselors

Some psychology programs offer classes in addiction psychology, which can give students a good foundation for pursuing a career in substance abuse counseling. Additional education may be required to earn the required credentials and licensure. Substance abuse counselors provide interventions to people in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, helping them to change their behaviors, develop goals, and cope with stressors that might trigger them to use drugs. The median salary in this role is $47,660.

Social Science Research Assistants

A psychology degree lays a solid foundation to take on research assistant positions. Many bachelor's programs include coursework in research methods and may even require students to carry out their own research projects. College and universities as well as private research organizations may hire research assistants to be part of a team that carries out studies. These professionals are responsible for tasks including interviewing study participants, collecting data, and reporting findings alongside lead researchers. The median annual earnings for research assistants are $53,560.

Psychiatric Technicians

Most bachelor's in psychology programs educate students on the symptoms of mental illness and developmental disabilities like Autism and cognitive delays. Psychology graduates are therefore prepared to work as psychiatric technicians in hospitals and residential facilities, providing daily care and guidance to patients with mental health conditions or disabilities. The median annual pay for psychiatric technicians is $33,140.

Human Resources Specialists

The knowledge of human behavior that comes with psychology training is beneficial for human resources specialists, who are responsible for recruiting, training, and hiring employees for organizations. These positions tend to require experience in the industry, so psychology students who have an interest in this area of work should seek internship opportunities or part-time jobs to gain experience. The median yearly salary is $63,490.

Legal Assistants

Psychology students become skilled in researching and writing, making them qualified to work as legal assistants. These professionals may research facts for court cases and prepare documentation prior to filing in court. The median annual pay for legal assistants is $52,920.

Industries For Psychology Majors

While psychology majors may tend to select careers in mental health or social services, these are not the only industries in which a psychology degree can lead to career advancement.

According to experts, a psychology degree prepares students to work in a variety of fields. If you are in an entry-level position and do not yet have a bachelor's degree, or if you are looking to transition into a different field of work, obtaining your bachelor's in psychology can advance your career in the following fields:

  • Public Relations
  • Higher Education
  • Job Placement Services
  • Childcare
  • Government
  • Corrections
  • Customer Service
  • Social Service
  • Legal Services
  • Nonprofits
  • Human Resources
  • Market Research
  • Scientific Research

Are Psychology Degrees Valuable?

According to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, just 3.9% of graduates with psychology degrees are unemployed, which is almost identical to the average for all majors, at 3.8%. This suggests that psychology degrees are just as valuable for career development as bachelor's degrees overall.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, psychology degrees may be more valuable than ever. For example, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), psychological interventions are necessary to help some people cope with stress, anxiety, depression, and trauma that come from living through a pandemic and coping with illness, isolation, and death of loved ones. This means that social service agencies and mental health clinics may need more psychology graduates on staff to fill case management roles and assist with growing numbers of clients needing services.

Understanding human behavior is also helpful in industries outside of social services. For instance, human resources departments may value employees with a psychology background who can help businesses to put supports in place for employees who are struggling emotionally with the effects of the pandemic. Psychology graduates working in the field of education can help schools meet the needs of students with behavioral problems or learning disabilities. Graduates with psych degrees are also well-equipped for positions in business management, where psychological concepts can be applied to assist with tasks like developing workplace relationships and motivating employees to meet performance standards.

Expert Tip
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on people's mental health, psychology degrees may be more valuable than ever.

What Should I Consider in a Psychology Program?

When you are choosing a psychology program, there are several factors you should evaluate:

Accreditation: An accredited institution has met quality standards and has proven that it is qualified to provide sufficient instruction/education to students. It is important to choose an accredited school, because they are trusted by employers and more likely to be accepted by graduate schools.

Advising Services: Take a look at the advising services and support offered by the universities you are considering. It is helpful to choose a program in which you will have guidance as you make decisions about scheduling courses and progressing within your degree program. A quality advisor can also help you access internship opportunities and apply for graduate school.

Distance Learning Resources: If you are looking at online programs, you will want to consider what resources are available to students. Is there online tutoring available? Will you have easy access to one-on-one support for technical difficulties?

Library Resources: Psychology programs require you to become skilled in researching and exploring various sources of information for carrying out studies and writing well-informed papers. This means that it is critical that your university offers a library with access to full-text copies of journal articles and books.

Internship Opportunities: In an increasingly competitive job market, it is essential that you have experience in your field when you graduate. Internship opportunities provide you with valuable experience and set you up for a successful career. When exploring psychology programs, ask about internship opportunities that the university offers.

Research Opportunities: Research experience is valuable, so it is beneficial to choose a degree program that offers research methods courses as part of its curriculum. Some universities also offer classes that give students the opportunity to design and conduct their own psychological research project.

Online vs. In-Person Psychology Degree Programs

In an increasingly technological world, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, online psychology degree programs are becoming more common. These programs can be a viable option for students who are working full-time or who have children and families at home. They can also be appealing for those who wish to stay home to avoid the risks associated with in-person education during a pandemic.

Online psychology degree programs typically offer more flexibility than in-person programs. Some programs may meet live via video conferencing, whereas others may be entirely asynchronous, with students working at their own pace. While these programs offer flexibility, you often will not have the same type of engagement with professors and others students that you can expect in the in-person setting. For instance, most communication with classmates may be via discussion board, instead of face-to-face conversation.

Online learning can be an excellent option for students who are motivated self-starters and can work on their own, but some students may perform better in the in-person classroom, where they can develop relationships with other students more easily and have regular face-to-face encounters with professors to keep them on track.

It is also helpful to consider the costs associated with an online psychology program versus an traditional, in-person program. OnlineU's manually researched tuition data and ROI calculations revealed you can pay relatively low tuition for an online psychology program and still receive a high return on your investment. For instance, psychology students who attended The University of Texas Permian Basin online paid an annual tuition of $10,620 and saw a 10-year ROI of $362,200, which is notably higher than the national average of $281,100. The relatively low costs, coupled with the fact that you can continue to live at home, mean you can often save more with an online program than with a traditional on-campus option, without sacrificing the quality of your education and post-graduate success.

Final Thoughts

Psychology provides students with a broad education that can open the door to a wide range of career options. In today's world, where there is a focus on making positive lifestyle changes to improve health and wellness, a psychology degree is more useful than ever. A bachelor's in psychology will also continue to become more valuable as society copes with the aftermath of a pandemic and the mental health concerns that can come with living through isolation, distress, and the loss of loved ones.

In today's world, where there is a focus on making positive lifestyle changes to improve health and wellness, a psychology degree is more useful than ever.

While many students find employment with an undergraduate psychology degree, some may continue their education at the master's or doctoral level and go on to become licensed as counselors or psychologists. There are many career options available for psychology degree holders, making this an excellent course of study for college students.