Where do Psychology Majors End Up? Bachelor's vs. Master's Degrees

A bachelor's in psychology can be useful for jobs in healthcare and business, but a master's degree is a better path for landing a job in-field

Taylor Nichols Written By: Taylor Nichols
Published: February 11, 2022

Key Insights:

  • Bachelor's degrees in psychology are highly versatile in the workforce, especially for healthcare and sales jobs
  • Over 30% of master's in psychology graduates end up working in healthcare, often as psychologists and therapists
  • Research assistant is the top occupation for bachelor's graduates in the first five years out of college

Psychology has been one of the most popular bachelor's degrees of the 21st century, with more than 1.1 million awarded since 2010, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. Since there often isn't a clear career pathway for psychology majors, it tends to draw students interested in the topic but unsure what they want to do after graduation.

There are limited jobs within psychology that are attainable with just a bachelor's degree; many require a master's or doctorate. However, only one in three psychology majors who earned their bachelor's from 2010 to 2020 went back to school. So where did those at the bachelor's level end up, and how do career outcomes compare for master's graduates?

To gain a better understanding of career pathways for psychology majors, we analyzed employment outcomes for at least 160,000 bachelor's and master's graduates to find out what career paths psychology majors follow after college, and whether a master's degree is a better path for a job in the field.

Where do Psychology Majors End Up After Graduation?

Our research suggests that a bachelor's in psychology often serves as a jumping off point for careers in a broad range of fields. Like most recent college graduates, psychology majors tend to take a few years to land on a career path. Just 22% of graduates worked in their field of study within a year of graduation.

However, at the three year mark, employment data shows psychology majors had settled into more defined career pathways. Early on in their careers, alumni with a bachelor's in psychology largely worked in healthcare jobs, followed by sales and education jobs.

Graph of the top job sectors for psychology majors
*Data is for three years after graduation Source: Burning Glass Technologies

These findings highlight the versatility of a psychology degree. While research and clinical jobs may come to mind when considering what students can do with their bachelor's in psychology, our findings suggest that healthcare workers, educators, and business professionals all benefit from a strong background in social sciences. Many of these jobs require additional education, such as teaching or nursing certification.

Unsurprisingly, psychology majors at the master's level are much more concentrated in their field of study after graduation. While it took bachelor's degree holders three years to get out of sales and service jobs and into other careers, master's alumni tend to enter these fields right away and little change occurs in the first five years after school.

Recent master's graduates go into healthcare jobs at nearly double the rate of bachelor's graduates. They also work in social services and education more often, and have a small percentage of graduates working in sales. For psychology bachelor's graduates on the other hand, sales is the second largest job family.

In short, students with a bachelor's in psychology typically take longer to settle into a career path and more often end up in jobs not directly correlated with their degree. However, skills learned in undergraduate psychology programs — strong communication skills and an understanding of human behavior, for example — are applicable for a broad range of positions that include daily interactions with others.

Top Occupations for Early Career Psychology Majors: Bachelor's vs. Master's Degrees

Employment data shows bachelor's alumni tend to be spread across occupations and industries rather than concentrated in specific professions. While the top occupations for early career bachelor's graduates are in related fields, they represent a low percentage of psychology majors overall.

Bachelor's alumni most often work as research assistants early on in their career. One year after graduation, 6% of alumni were research assistants. That number dropped to 4% over the next two years. Other common jobs include clinical case managers and human resources specialists.

Comparatively, master's graduates tend to hold some of the highest-paid occupations for psychology majors, most of which require graduate education. Ten percent of alumni become psychologists within the first five years after graduation, and clinical psychologists are some of the highest paid professionals in this field of study. Another 5% become college instructors or professors, and 4% become behavior analysts.

Master's graduates also tend to work as counselors or therapists, a trend that is likely to continue given the growing need for counseling professionals.

Top Employers for Early Career Psychology Majors
Bachelor's vs. Master's Degrees

Bachelor's Degrees Master's Degrees
Starbucks Coffee Company New York City Department of Education
YMCA Department of Veterans Affairs
Target Deloitte
Amazon Amazon
US Army U.S. Air Force
*Data is for three years after graduation Source: Burning Glass Technologies

For students considering a bachelor's in psychology, the largest employers for bachelor's alumni in the first three years after graduation may not be particularly encouraging. Starbucks is the single largest employer for alumni, with many graduates working as baristas, supervisors, or managers. The coffee chain likely retains many workers thanks to benefits like parental leave and paid time off, and recently announced it will raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Target is also a top employer with alumni working in retail sales, food service, and managerial positions. At the bachelor's level, alumni working for Amazon tend to be focused in business and operations. Psychology majors working for the YMCA hold a range of social services positions that more closely correlate with their educational background.

For master's graduates, top employers often include government agencies at the state and federal level. The NYC Department of Education employs a high rate of psychologists right out of graduate school. The Department of Veterans Affairs is also a top employer, with more mixed occupations represented. These employees primarily work in research, healthcare including mental health, and social services.

Employment data suggests a master's in psychology also prepares some alumni for jobs in business consulting, analytics, management, and operations at high-profile companies such as Amazon and Deloitte.

Bachelor's alumni gain strong foundational skills, but master's graduates see targeted career boost

Overall, students who earn their bachelor's in psychology seem to have a harder time finding relevant work soon out of school. A significant portion never make it into their "field of study" and change careers early on, although many may have never intended to work in psychology in the first place given the versatility of the degree. Bachelor's in psychology graduates are well-suited for careers in healthcare, education, social services, and business.

Comparatively, master's in psychology graduates are much more concentrated in their field of study — most work in psychology, mental health, or research. However, recent graduates at the master's level also seem well-prepared for upper-level roles in business, including consulting, analytics, management, and human resources.

Given these employment results, it seems that a master's in psychology is well worth the commitment for those hoping to advance a career in mental health, research, or business. However, a bachelor's degree can also be highly useful for work in healthcare, social services, or sales, but often leads to more frequent career shifts in the first years out of college.

Methodology

Employment data was provided by analytics company Burning Glass Technologies. Our study includes at least 138,000 psychology graduates at the bachelor's level and 21,000 psychology graduates at the master's level. Employment data was gathered for alumni of the 2010 through 2020 graduating classes at one, three, and five years after degree completion, if applicable.

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