What to Know About Becoming a Psychology Major 

The psychology major is the study of the mind and human behavior including mental processes and social interactions. Psychology majors study cognitive and developmental psychology, normal psychology, abnormal human psychology, neural processes, personality and social psychology.

The required classes for majoring in psychology include prerequisites in math and social sciences plus general psychology, developmental psychology, child psychology, clinical psychology, research methods in psychology, statistical methods in psychology, and the relationship between the brain and behavior. 

The psychology major course work also includes labs in conducting psychological research, observation and measurement techniques, designing psychological experiments and analyzing data.

The psychology major is difficult for students not accustomed to reading and retaining large amounts of information, writing reports and working with scientific data. 

Choosing to major in psychology is easier for strong readers with good comprehension and communication skills, and those comfortable organizing and explaining research data.

The main careers for psychology majors are psychologists (clinical psychologist, forensic psychologist, child psychologist, sports psychologist, etc), counselor, therapist, teacher, social worker, human resource manager, market research analyst, or professor.

With a bachelor degree, you can work in fields as a teacher, social worker, advertising sales rep, manager, research or lab assistant, psychiatric technician, writer, human resources specialist, police or corrections officer, market researcher.

According to the American Psychological Association, a graduate degree such as a master’s degree or doctorate is necessary to work as a professional clinical psychologist, licensed therapist, industrial-organizational psychologist, school psychologist, social psychologist, forensic psychologist.

Psychology is one of the top majors for med school and law school. “Psychology is a popular major among premed students, as well as those interested in other health-related professions. ” according to the Department of Psychology at Northwestern University.

What Is a Psychology Major?

The Psychology Major is the study of the mind and its relationship to the brain including both normal and abnormal human behavior, personality and social interaction. It includes, “the study of the mind and behavior in both human and animal subjects,” according to the Texas A&M Psychological & Brain Sciences Department of the College of Arts & Sciences.

The study of psychology focuses on a thorough understanding of human behavior along with the skills to comprehend and accurately interpret research findings from psychological experiments, observations and studies. The psychology curriculum includes classes in cognitive, developmental, behavioral and neural studies, learning, personality, social and clinical psychology.

The coursework for a psychology major, “emphasizes the fundamental concepts and scientific methods of this basic behavioral science discipline. Psychology students are encouraged to expand their learning experience outside the classroom by conducting and analyzing laboratory and field research as well as participating in internships,” according to the University of Kentucky Department of Psychology.

To complete a psychology major, students must also pass general education prerequisites in math, social sciences and language arts. Each college or university has its own list of prerequisite coursework for psychology majors. Education in psychology is one of the behavioral sciences. As such, it includes research and studies in 10 areas:

  •  Behavioral neurosciences
  • Cognitive psychology
  • Clinical science and psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Forensic psychology and criminal behavior
  • Health and how it is impacted by personal psychology
  • Occupational psychology and organizational psychology
  • Psychology of personality
  • Psychology for intellectual and physical disabilities and rehabilitation
  • Social psychology

Psychology is a science major, so it is one of the stem majors. “Psychology is a core STEM discipline because of its direct scientific and technological innovations, as well as its indirect contributions to education and learning in science and technology,” according to the American Psychological Association.

Psychology is a social science and listed by the National Science Foundation as an approved STEM discipline. There are 2 psychology subfields (Cognitive Neuroscience and Computational Psychology Neuropsychology) specifically named on the NSF roster of STEM disciplines. 

Psych majors develop a range of skills that assist them in their career. Useful skills are problem solving, applied research and evaluation, testing and assessment and complementary soft skills like critical thinking, interpersonal processes and effective collaboration. 

What Is the Difference Between BA Degree and BS Degree In Psychology?

A psychology BS degree is a bachelor science degree in psychology. It focuses on hard sciences and skills such as data gathering, testing and assessment, and statistical analysis.

A psychology BA degree is a bachelor arts degree in psychology that offers a wider range of study than a BS degree. There is a greater focus on skills such as observation, problem solving, interpersonal process, and effective collaboration.

The main differences between a BA and BS programs in psychology are required courses, whether or not it is a STEM major, future job opportunities and potential pathways for graduate education.

The coursework for a BA and BS in psychology overlaps significantly. Common courses include Introduction to Psychology, Biological Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Social Psychology, Basics of Neuroscience and Cognitive Psychology.

The BA program in Psychology includes more courses in arts, social sciences, humanities and language. 

The BS in psychology requires more math and science classes than a BA degree. “This distinction can often make the B.S. in Psychology better suited for individuals seeking to eventually enter academia and pursue further research,” according to The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

A BS in Psychology is a STEM degree.  A BA in Psychology does not always meet STEM criteria.  

Career differences between a BA in Psychology and a BS in Psychology exist. The top 8 careers for a Psychology BA degree are:

  • Social work
  • Human resources
  • Criminal justice
  • Substance abuse counseling
  • Personal development
  • Organizational training
  • Career counseling
  • Case management

The top 4 career options for a BS in psychology are:

  • Research assistant 
  • Lab assistant
  • Market research and data analysis
  • Social services management

A BA is also a good degree for applying to graduate school in psychology, law and business. However, a Psychology BS degree is excellent preparation for graduate school including medical school, clinical psychology and analytics.

What Classes Do Psychology Majors Take?

Psychology majors take general and specific classes related to the field of psychology. There are three tiers of classes psychology majors take:

  • General prerequisites needed to complete a BA or BS program.
  • Required classes in psychology and related fields to complete a bachelor degree in psychology.
  • Electives – A small number of classes in psychology or another field.

The psychology classes that psychology majors take are Clinical Psychology, Social Psychology, Experimental Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Cultural Psychology, Theories of Personality, Cognitive Psychology, Research Methods, Biological Science, Biological Psychology, Behavioral Psychology, Research Methods, Biopsychology, Physiological Psychology, Psychological Disorders, Neuroscience, Memory and Cognition.

This is a large catalog of psychology classes, and most colleges and universities do not offer all of them. The classes are typically grouped into Course Lists or Course Tracks, and each student is required to take the group or groups of classes that specifically align with their degree program concentration.

Additional classes psychology majors take are Statistics, Calculus, Research Methods and Chemistry for a BS degree, and Writing for a BA degree. Common psychology electives are Counseling Psychology, Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Neuropsychology, History of Psychology and Group Dynamics.

What are the Requirements for Psychology Major

The requirements for becoming a psychology major are required classwork successfully completed and additional criteria.

  • Completion of prerequisite general education courses: These vary by school but include Research Methods, Statistics, Calculus (for bs degree), and Chemistry (for bs degree). English or Composition are commonly required unless the student meets the minimum SAT, ACT, Accuplacer or similar criteria.
  • Completion of prerequisite psychology courses: Introduction to Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Social Psychology, Clinical Psychology, Cognitive Psychology and Quantitative Methods are among the typical prerequisite psychology classes. Each school has unique requirements too such as Sensation and Perception (University of Chicago), and Fundamentals of Neuroscience (Princeton University). Typically, 40 to 50 hours of coursework in psychology are required. For example, Northeastern Illinois University requires 44 credit hours of psychology coursework plus 39 credit hours of general education requirements.
  • Lab Research Courses: As part of the course requirements, psychology programs require at least one lab. The purpose of the lab is to provide firsthand experience in observation, experimentation, participation or practice depending on the nature of the course.  
  • A minimum GPA: The minimum GPA varies, but for most psychology degree tracks, it is 2.0, or a C average.
  • Meeting with an academic advisor: You will be assigned or allowed to choose an advisor after you declare Psychology as your major. The advisor will assist you in ensuring you take the required courses, getting academic assistance if needed and deciding on a course concentration and career path.
  • Minimum number of hours at that institution: If you transfer to a university after starting your academic career elsewhere, most require that you complete a minimum of 30 hours at that school.

What math courses are required for psychology major? Math courses required for psychology major are Statistics and Calculus. Statistics is required for a BA and a BS in Psychology while Calculus is necessary for a Psychology BS.  

Why Psychology is a Hard Major

Psychology is a hard major because the course requirements include math, statistics, and a large volume of reading on complex subjects such as brain function, human personality and behavior. 

To succeed as a psychology major, you will need to comprehend the reading and express your understanding through written assignments such as papers and also perform well on quizzes and tests. 

For many psychology concentrations, you may also be required to take a biology or chemistry course and expected to develop important skills in observation, statistics research and analysis, communication and critical thinking.

Finally, if you intend to pursue a career in psychology, it is likely that you will need to get good enough grades to be accepted in a master’s program in your preferred field of psychology. This will require dedication to studies, which makes psychology a hard major for many students. 

What Are the Pros and Cons of Psychology Major?

The pros and cons of a psychology major should be considered before you enter a psychology program. 

The pros of being a psychology major are that the subject matter is diverse and interesting, personal and professional skills are developed that will serve you well in any career, online psychology programs are available, schools in every state have programs. A psych degree is an accepted pre law and pre med degree and also for getting into graduate programs in psychology, sociology, and business.

The cons of a psychology major include difficult coursework, some boring reading, challenging tests and written papers, doing extensive research, working with statistics and the fact that you will need additional schooling in a graduate program for many psychology careers.

Is Psychology a Good Major For You

Psychology is a good major if you love reading and learning, have a caring personality, excel in critical thinking and problem solving, are interested in human behavior (normal and abnormal), are a good listener and are eager to develop further skills in the areas of research, data collection and analysis, counseling, training and development.

If you have a curious nature, then majoring in psychology is right for you, according to information from Arden University in the UK.

And being an empathic person is the top sign you would succeed as a psychology major according to the University of Massachusetts Global.

What Are the Different Branches of Psychology Major?

This list shows the 9 branches or concentrations available to the psychology major:

  • Counseling Psychology focuses on psychological development starting from early childhood plus mental health issues. It is, “a generalist health service (HSP) specialty in professional psychology that uses a broad range of practices to help people improve their well-being, prevent and alleviate distress and maladjustment, resolve crises, and increase their ability to function better in their lives,” according to the American Psychological Association.
  • Clinical Psychology is the branch of psychology devoted to assessing and treating psychological problems including mental illness.
  • Forensic Psychology is defined as the application of clinical psychology specialties of evaluation and psychological assessment to the law. A broader definition of forensic psychology is the application of forensic research and experimentation in cognitive psychology and social psychology to legal fields.
  • Criminal Psychology is defined as the study of the thoughts and behaviors of criminals and includes psychological assessment.
  • School Psychology definition is the application of psychological skills to the learning process for both students and educators as well as for families.
  • Industrial and Organizational Psychology definition is science-based problem-solving in work and organizational environments.
  • Educational Psychology is the branch of psychology that studies children in the educational process including best practices for teaching, learning, cognitive development and aptitude assessment.
  • Experimental Psychology is the psychology concentration focused on factual research and experimentation, the scientific and empirical approach to the study of the mind, according to Amity University.
  • Social Psychology is the branch of psychology devoted to studying social behaviors and interactions and how they impact individuals and groups. According to Maryville University, social psychology is the study of how individual or group behavior is influenced by others.

This table shows the branches of the psychology major with the most common degree type and number of awarded degrees in each field, based on the IPEDS (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System) from NECS.

Psychology BranchesMost Common Awarded Degree Total Degrees​ Awarded (2021)
Counseling PsychologyMaster Degree  9,463
Clinical PsychologyMaster Degree5,125
Forensic PsychologyMaster Degree 2,290
Criminal PsychologyMaster Degree N/A
School PsychologyMaster Degree 3,230
Industrial & Organizational PsychologyMaster Degree2,386
Educational PsychologyMaster Degree1,856
Experimental PsychologyBachelor Degree3,211
Social PsychologyBachelor Degree982

What Jobs Can You Get with a Psychology Degree

The jobs you can get with a psychology degree include social worker, teacher, case worker,  human resource specialist, therapist, counselor, and a psychologist in related fields (clinical psychologist, forensic psychologist, Industrial–organizational psychologist, etc).

This table shows jobs available with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and what the average wage is for workers in the field:

Common Jobs For Psychology DegreeAVERAGE WAGE
Social Worker$50,390
Teacher (with Teaching Certificate)$69,970
Advertising Sales$52,340
Career and Employment Counselor$60,510
Corrections Officer$47,920
Customer Service Supervisor$47,010
Human Resources Specialist$73,080
Disability Case Manager$79,310
Fundraiser$66,670
Loan Officer$84,160
Police Officer$66,020
Psychiatric Technician$40,760
Preschool Teacher$38,640
Recreational Leader or Supervisor$48,630
Substance Abuse Counselor$48,520
Technical Writer$86,760
Social and Community Services Manager$74,000
This table shows common jobs for a graduate degree in psychology. The income data in the table is from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The most recent salary data is provided. 

What Are the Different Types Of Graduate Psychology Degrees

The different types of graduate psychology degrees are a master’s degree, Psychology Doctorate PsyD and a Doctorate of Philosophy PhD.

Master’s Degree also called a masters degree: A masters in psychology is typically a one-year or two-year degree depending on the school and the course of study. A psychology masters is the minimum degree needed to be a practicing psychologist or counselor. Anyone considering psychology as a career will have better job prospects and higher income with a masters degree vs a bachelor’s degree.

PsyD or Doctorate in Psychology: The emphasis of a PsyD is on clinical training rather than research.  A PsyD is a doctorate in professional psychology, according to William James University. A doctorate in psychology takes 3-5 years of post-graduate education to achieve. A PsyD qualifies you to work as a clinical psychologist, industrial-organizational psychologist and related professions.

PhD or Doctorate of Philosophy in Psychology: A PhD is an academic degree associated with psychology research and teaching at the university level. A doctorate of philosophy in psychology takes 5-8 years of postgraduate work to complete.

Both the PsyD and PhD over-qualifies you for many professions in the broad field of psychology.

What Can I Master In With a Bachelor In Psychology Major?

With a bachelor’s degree in psychology, you can master in several types of psychology and in non-psychology fields such as social work and criminal justice.

A bachelor’s degree in psychology qualifies you for a master’s degree in any specialization of psychology including Clinical Psychology, Counseling Psychology, Forensic Psychology, Criminal Psychology, Educational Psychology, Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Social Psychology and Mental Health.  

A bachelors in psychology also prepares you for a master’s degree in fields other than psychology. The typical master’s degrees for psychology majors other than psychology are Social Work, Criminal Justice, Education, Business, Health Sciences, Sports Medicine and Fine Arts.

Is Psychology A Good Major For Law School

Yes, psychology is a good major for law school. This is because a degree in psychology gives you skills that will prepare you to succeed in law school including skills in research, analysis and writing. And because the law involves human behavior, knowledge in psychology is useful to law school and the legal profession. That makes psychology a good pre-law degree.

Data on 3,778 law school applicants with a degree in psychology shows that the acceptance rate into law school was 78%.

Is Psychology A Good Major For Med School

Yes, psychology is a good major for med school. In fact, psychology is the second most frequent major for pre med students, according to Murray State University. The school says, “National statistics show that medical school admission rates for psychology majors is equivalent to that of biology and chemistry majors.”

The psychology major acceptance rate to medical school is 41% when all social science majors including psychology and sociology are considered. In 2022-2023, of 5000 applicants with a psychology or other social science degree, 2058 were accepted into medical school according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

How To Become A Psychologist

You become a psychologist following this track:

  • Earning a  bachelor’s degree in psychology, either a BA or BS
  • Earning a master’s degree in one of the branches of psychology such as clinical psychology, organizational psychology, educational psychology or counseling psychology.
  • Earning a PsyD or PhD in Psychology if you wish to maximize your education and professional opportunities.
  • Becoming a certified licensed psychologist

What Are Good Double Majors With Psychology Major

Good double majors with a psychology major are sociology, business, data science, marketing, nursing, biology and criminal justice.

Biology is the best double major with psychology for pre med studies. Criminal justice is the best double major for pre-law students.

Consider your career objectives before deciding on the best double major for psychology based on your career goals. This is important because potential employers will strongly consider your dual major when comparing applicants that all have a psychology degree.

For example, a sociology degree is ideal if you intend to work with children, families or people with disabilities. A second major in criminal justice is useful for careers in forensic psychology. And if you intend to open a counseling clinic or work in business or organizational psychology, a business degree is essential.

What Are Best Minors For Psychology Major

The 10 best minors for a psychology major are criminal justice, business, sociology, neuroscience, social work, education, biology, public health, foreign language, and philosophy.

Consider criminal justice if you intend to go to law school. Business is the best minor for those intending to get an MBA. Biology and public health are excellent for pre-med students, and social work and sociology are useful if you intend to work in psychology such as counseling or clinical psychology. 

What Are Majors Similar To Psychology

College majors similar to psychology are sociology, anthropology, health sciences, criminal justice, and nursing. 

These majors are like psychology because they involve understanding people, their relationships and their physical and psychological needs and propensities. All these similar majors would be useful to combine with psychology in a dual major. 

Sociology has the most overlap with psychology – there are many similarities and differences. The two social sciences are both concerned with human development, thought processes and behaviors. The largest difference is that psychology focuses on the individual while sociology more broadly focuses on collective societal behaviors and human interactions. 

Choose health sciences or criminal justice if you prefer a broader base of knowledge and experience in your education.

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