What drives someone to pursue a psychology major? The driving impulse in humankind’s never-ending exploration of the world has been to discover what’s beyond the horizon, over the next mountain and even across outer space. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the journey inward: the human mind.
Who are we? Why do we do what we do? Are we formed by nature or nurture? What are the internal and external forces that shape us? How do we gain control of our lives to become the people we want to be? If you study psychology, you’ll discover the differing answers to these fundamental questions as well as many others.
Psychology classes are a degree-plan staple for most liberal arts majors. You may want, however, to take your interest in this area of study to the next level and major in psychology. If so, you’ll be in good company. Psychology is the fourth most awarded undergraduate degree in the United States.
Being a psychology major also generates another set of questions: What exactly will you study? What post-graduation careers are available? What are typical salaries? Let’s take a look at each of these in detail.
The Psychology Degree
Psychology is the scientific discipline devoted to all aspects of human behavior as influenced by three fundamental forces: biological, cognitive and social. In addition, psychology’s concepts are systematically used to address applied problems in mental health and other subjects as disparate as organizational behavior, forensic pathology and business management.
As a psychology major, you’ll first study psychology’s principles, research methods and history. At most colleges, you’ll also learn the skills to perform statistical analysis of data. After that, you’ll take classes in each of the following seven areas of psychology:
As an undergraduate, most courses will be lecture-based and you may find, due to the popularity of the psychology major, that these lectures are among the largest in your college career. There may also be opportunities to participate in research being done by graduate students or faculty.
Bachelor of Arts or Science?
There are two different undergraduate psychology degrees available: Bachelor of Science (BS) and Bachelor of Arts (BA). The BS degree is best suited for students planning on going to medical school because of its emphasis on scientific research, math and statistics. The BA degree will have more classes based within the social sciences. Either one will prepare you to further your studies in psychology or pursue a career in other fields.
Employment Opportunities in Psychology
For a long-term career in psychology with the most potential earning power, you’ll need to earn at least a master’s degree. At that point, a variety of positions in the mental health field will be available:
- Behavioral psychologist
- Clinical psychologist
- Forensic psychologist
- Industrial/Organizational psychologist
- School psychologist
Nationwide, average annual psychology salaries vary from about $50,000 for an early-career clinical psychologist to around $100,000 for an experienced industrial/organizational psychologist.
Industry Leaders with Psychology Degrees
As the CEO of Campbell Soup Company from 2011-2018, Denise Morrison is one of the few women in the US to lead a Fortune 500 company. A graduate of Boston College with a double major in psychology and economics, she’s credited for revamping Campbell’s portfolio to address evolving consumer desires for healthier foods.
While her economics degree may seem the most immediately relevant, Morrison says that “[both degrees] have equal play.” In describing her career at Campbell Soup, she believes being successful in business means understanding the basic psychology of leadership: “The best thing you can do as a leader when people are pressed is get the obstacles out of their way.”
Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase which is number 20 on the Fortune 500, also earned a dual degree in psychology and economics from Tufts University. In addition to his business successes, he is well known for his involvement in education and social issues, such as wage disparity in the US.
As an outgrowth of his background in psychology, Dimon has created a business culture at JPMorgan Chase built around “verbal sparring” as a way of arriving at the truth. Plus, he sees his employees as valuable assets, not replaceable cogs, and as a mentor, encourages them to have full lives outside of their careers.
Another woman senior executive of a Fortune 500 company is Lisa Weber, MetLife’s senior executive vice president and chief administrative officer from 2001-2004. Later, she oversaw its individual business, auto and home insurance operations. At one point, Weber was responsible for 45 percent of the company’s earnings totaling $3.27 billion.
A Stony Brook University psychology graduate, Weber realized early on graduate school was not for her. As she told her mother on her way to take the GRE, “I don’t know why I’m doing this. I need to go to work and figure out the rest later.” Her career began with ten years in human resources at PaineWebber before moving to MetLife.
Weber’s psychology background helped make her an inspiring leader for her employees, especially through her decision-making process. As another MetLife executive vice president described her, “Lisa recognizes that there are varying shades of gray, and she makes those decisions with confidence. And, you know what? She always gets it right.”
Tech Leaders who Majored in Psychology
Combining computer programming with the creative arts, Jordan Mechner built his first game, Karateka, which sold half a million copies, when he was a psychology major at Yale. After graduation, he combined what he’d learned to create Prince of Persia, one of the most popular video games of its day. After that, he worked with producer Jerry Bruckheimer to turn it into a movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Ben Kingsley and Gemma Arterton.
It was through video games Mechner found the ideal combination of technology and the human psyche from sources as varied as Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, D.W. Griffith and Japanese woodblock prints. He says programming was always a means to a greater end to explore what he learned through a liberal arts education: “I think what served me best as a game creator and storyteller was a broad cultural grounding. It’s a strength to have knowledge … other people don’t know … and an interest in other cultures.”
Also working in the tech sector, Guy Kawasaki is a well-known thought leader and bestselling author of books, including The Macintosh Way and The Art of the Start. After fainting during a tour of the Stanford Medical Center as a pre-med student, he chose to earn a BA in psychology because he thought it would be easy. Since then, however, being a psychology major has been a boon to his career, first as Apple’s chief evangelist for four years and then as a marketing guru and serial entrepreneur.
Kawasaki understands the psychology of hiring the right people to build a cohesive workgroup: “A players hire A+ players, not merely A players. It takes self-confidence and self-awareness, but it’s the only way to build a great team.” In addition, he has come to devalue the perceived worth of intuition. As he says, “The problem with intuition is that people only remember when their intuition was right – truth be told, their intuition was probably wrong as often as right.”
Almost every career entails working with a variety of people, and understanding how people’s minds work is always a valuable skill. According to data from the American Psychological Association, roughly a quarter of people with bachelor’s degrees in psychology work in a field closely related to their major. The average annual salary with this level of education is around $50,000, depending on exact job title and location.
As per the examples above, there are many career pathways where being a psychology major with even a bachelor’s degree is excellent preparation:
- Business and finance
- Human resources
- Public relations
- Projected Earnings for Psychology Majors
According to recent statistics, around three quarters of psychology graduates are women who have a salary range of $35,000-$72,000, while male graduates average $37,000-$90,000. The most popular cities for psychology graduates to live in are New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston. Top job options include working for non-profits as well as high growth companies such as Amazon.com and JPMorgan Chase.
Just some of the job titles and annual average psychology related salaries include:
- Administrative services manager ($86,000)
- Community services manager ($63,000)
- Computer programmer ($79,000)
- Human factors specialist ($78,000)
- Human resources specialist ($58,000)
- Management analyst ($81,000)
- Market research analyst ($62,000)
- Public relations specialist ($56,000)
- Sales manager ($113,000)
- Sales representative ($55,000)
As with many liberal arts majors, the choice to study psychology doesn’t necessarily have a cut-and-dried career pathway in the same way as a business or engineering degree. At the same time, this is also one of its strengths.
With a post-graduation mindset more focused on long-term results than a predetermined, connect-the-dots employment path, psychology majors often create their own futures.