What you can do with a psychology degree
Within the field of life sciences and medicine is the study of psychology. Psychology in its broadest terms is the study of the human mind and human behavior, offering the chance to explore unanswered questions about the brain, such as how it functions under stress, how it learns language, how it remembers facts or how mental illness can affect the way it works. Those pursuing research in this area have the chance to help further scientific understandings of the brain, to promote the all-round health and welfare of current and future generations.
If you choose to study psychology at university, there are many different areas which you can choose to focus on. These include health, clinical, educational, research and teaching, occupational, counseling, neuro, sport and exercise, and forensic. Often during a psychology degree you will gain a broad knowledge in all of these areas before specializing in one or two areas of interest after your first or second year. These areas of specialization will in turn help you enter related psychology careers after graduation.
So what can you do with a psychology degree? If you’re not sure about the answer to this, you’ve come to the right place. The answer, however, depends on the path down which you wish to take your degree. The choices are vast:
- Social worker
- Educational psychologist
- Human resource manager
- Research roles
- Media roles
Interested in mental health? Consider becoming a mental health psychologist. Passionate about working with young people? Consider becoming an educational psychologist or a pediatric social worker. Want to help support criminal justice and rehabilitation? Consider becoming a parole officer.
Fortunately many of these roles will be available to you from the outset of graduate life, with only some of the more highly specialized roles requiring further study. Of the psychology careers which don’t require further study, training is usually available on the job to ensure you continue moving forward in your career.
Read on for some insight into the types of careers open to you with an undergraduate psychology degree (BA or BSc).
Typical psychology careers
‘What can you do with a psychology degree?’ is not a question with just one answer. With a psychology degree, you’re well placed to pursue a career in both arts and scientific fields, depending on your personal interests. Further study is an option, and is required if you’d like to become a fully-fledged chartered psychologist. For this you’ll need at least a master’s degree, as well as further training specific to your specialization.
But, for a large number of psychology careers, further study isn’t a prerequisite. Those who don’t go on to study psychology at postgraduate level have many options within public and private healthcare, education, mental health support, social work, therapy and counseling. These roles may be advisory, research-led, treatment-led or therapeutic.
There are also a number of less typical roles for psychology graduates, including jobs in media and other creative industries. Overviews of these typical and not-so-typical careers with a psychology degree are outlined below.
Psychology careers in healthcare and therapy
With further study and training you will be able to gain qualification as a chartered psychologist. Within this highly specialized role, you will work with people of all backgrounds, both patients and clients. You’ll analyze behaviors, thoughts and emotions in order to better understand and advise on certain actions and/or psychological issues. As a chartered psychologist, you may choose to specialize in a number of areas, including occupational psychology, educational psychology, sport and mental health.
(Note: If you wish to become a psychiatrist – a doctor specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders – you will need to gain a medical degree.)
A psychotherapist can have a diverse workload, working with individuals, couples, groups and families, in the aim of helping clients overcome psychological issues, including emotional and relationship-related issues, stress and even addiction.
Depending on what you choose to specialize in during your psychology degree, as well as your personal interests, you can choose to act as a psychotherapist using a number of different approaches. These include cognitive behavioral methods, psychoanalytic and psychodynamic therapies, as well as art therapy, drama therapy, humanistic and integrative psychotherapy, hypno-psychotherapy and experiential therapy. Particular psychology careers within the therapy field include art therapist, physical therapist, musical therapist, life coach, family therapist and existential therapist.
A social worker is someone who works with people who are going through difficult periods in their lives. These often include groups such as children or the elderly, people with disabilities and victims of crime and abuse. The role of a social worker is to safeguard these people from harm and provide support in order to allow people to improve their situations. As a social worker you may work within schools, homes, hospitals or other public agencies. A social worker will tend to be specialized in working with children and families or vulnerable adults. Some of the areas a social worker can work in include pediatrics, addiction, disability, corrections, geriatrics, medical and clinical, parole, probation, mental health, public heath, school, victim support and substance abuse.
As a counselor you will be involved in helping people come to better terms with their lives and experiences through exploration of feelings and emotions. You will work within a confidential setting and be expected to listen attentively to your clients. Key traits of a counselor include the ability to listen, empathize, offer respect and patience, as well as to analyze the issues at play in order to enable the client to better cope with his or her situation. Although a counselor does not give advice, they do help support clients in making choices for themselves. Like psychotherapy, counseling is often a form of talking therapy and can encompass areas including marriage and family, health, abuse, rehabilitation, education, grief, mental health, career guidance and pediatrics.
Psychology careers in education
Careers for psychology graduates interested in the education sector can take a number of different paths, including those already listed above. As well as educational therapy, educational psychology and social work within education, psychology graduates may qualify as teachers, working in primary, secondary or tertiary level education, or they may work within social services to help support learning in the community at all ages, or within the prison sector to provide support for young offenders.
To be named an educational psychologist, you will need the same qualifications as any psychologist (a master’s degree and further training). This is a role concerned with the development of young people in educational settings, with the aim of enhancing learning and dealing with social and emotional issues or learning difficulties.
To become a teacher of psychology, depending on the level you choose, you will almost certainly need an additional teaching qualification. As a rule, however, psychology graduates can be particularly sought-after within education and teaching due to their psychological knowledge of learning systems and insight into how people pick up information.
To enter careers in tertiary education (colleges and universities) you will likely need a further qualification, such as a master’s and/or PhD. Roles in higher education are likely to encompass both teaching and research (see below).
Psychology careers in research
Psychology careers in research may be based within research agencies, public and private organizations or, as is often the case, in universities. University-based careers vary, but tend to combine research and teaching. Research careers within other sectors are even more wide-ranging, but could mean contributing to governmental policy development (in areas such as healthy eating and exercise) or issues of importance for industry (improving work productivity, for example). You could also work for a charity or other non-profit organization, perhaps conducting researching to help resolve challenges such as speech impediments, brain damage, child development or the impact of legal and illegal drugs on psychological health.
Less typical careers with a psychology degree
But what can you do with a psychology degree without following the typical paths? Quite a lot actually! As a psychology graduate at bachelor level, there are thousands of opportunities for you outside healthcare and educational roles if you know where to look. This broad range of options is due to the varied transferable skills you should gain from your degree, as well as widespread recognition of the advantages of having some psychological and analytical expertise. In broad terms, psychology graduates can be found working in all sectors of society, including media, criminal justice and rehabilitation, advertising, business and management, sports, public agencies and the legal sector. Some less typical careers with a psychology degree are outlined below…
Media and advertising careers
It might not be an obvious choice for those graduating in psychology, but media careers are hugely varied, with ample opportunities to apply the skills a psychology degree can hone. In particular, psychology graduates can impart valuable insights into human behavior, as well as offering the ability to analyze problems, listen attentively, give considered responses and act with empathy and reason. Other reasons for employers to hire you within a media role include your ability to discuss and analyze complex problems, awareness of how to communicate well, and the skill of giving thoughtful advice. Because of this, media roles within all departments including management, production, scheduling and writing are well within reach for psychology graduates.
Human resources and communications careers
Psychology is all about understanding people and how they think, making human resources and communications careers another good match. These roles, available in both the public and private sectors, encompass areas such as employee satisfaction, professional development, training, recruitment, PR, payroll and internal communications. Many of these careers will be perfect for psychology graduates because they require good people skills, empathy, a strong head for data and the ability to analyze and solve problems.
Business and management careers
Thanks to a keen sense of how to handle both data and people, business and management careers are another good option for psychology graduates. Although further training and work experience are likely to be required before entering managerial roles, you could start out by pursuing careers within business consultancy, marketing, sales, advertising or business development, before working your way up the ladder.
A psychology degree may also provide a good basis for careers in IT, finance, the legal sector, government administration and market research.