Career Options for People With a Graduate Degree in Psychology

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Students who are interested in studying psychology are often advised that earning a graduate degree is a good idea and, in some cases, even a basic requirement to work in their field of choice. Why? Because in most cases, a graduate degree in psychology can open the door to a much wider range of career opportunities.

So, how can students determine which graduate program is right for them? What career options might be best? Because of the huge range of degree options and specialty areas, picking the one that is right for you can feel overwhelming. Spending some time researching different career paths can help you decide which career path is suited to your needs, interests, and educational background.

The first step is to begin by asking yourself some important questions. How long are you willing to go to school? Where do you envision yourself working? What areas of psychology interest you the most? Some of the most common areas of employment include mental health, education, business, and government.

Careers for Those With a Graduate Degree in Psychology

Once you have a general idea of what you might like to do, you can start exploring different career paths in greater depth. The following are some of the major areas of employment for those with a graduate degree in psychology. You will also find a selection of career choices that exist in each employment area.

Mental Health and Social Services

If your ultimate goal is to work directly with people to help them overcome mental illness, then a specialty area focused on mental health and social services would be a good option for you. While there are some entry-level positions in this field for those with a master's degree in psychology, those holding a Ph.D. or Psy.D. will find more plentiful job opportunities.

Some job titles in this area include:

  • Clinical Psychologists
    • Clinical psychologists assess, diagnose, and treat individuals experiencing mental or emotional health issues. Most individuals in this area hold a Ph.D. or Psy.D., but there are some openings for those with a master's degree.
  • Counselors
    • Counselors have many of the same job duties as clinical psychologists but tend to work more on helping individuals overcome issues affecting their daily lives rather than psychiatric illness. Those employed in this area generally have a master's or doctorate degree in psychology, counseling, or education.​
  • Social Workers
    • Social workers often diagnose and treat mental illness or work for social welfare agencies. Those with an undergraduate degree in psychology may elect to obtain a master's degree in social work. Masters-level social work graduates can become licensed to practice in all 50 states.

Educational and School Settings

In addition to social services, those with a graduate degree in psychology are also qualified to work in research or educational settings. College and universities employ PhD-level (and occasionally masters-level) graduates to fill faculty positions. Professors are generally expected to teach undergraduate- and graduate-level students as well as conduct research.

Some job titles in this area include:

  • School Counselors
    • School counselors work with children who are having difficulty at home or school and assist students in making academic choices. Many also provide help with college applications and career choices.
  • School Psychologists
    • School psychologists assess, diagnose, and treat children who are experiencing behavioral, emotional, or academic problems. These individuals may also recommend treatments or work with parents, teachers, and others to help children overcome problems and achieve goals.
  • Educational Psychologists
    • Educational psychology is the branch of psychology concerned with schools, teaching psychology, educational issues, and student concerns. Educational psychologists often study how students learn or work directly with students, parents, teachers, and administrators to improve student outcomes.

Local, State, and Federal Government

Government and business entities often hire masters and doctoral graduates in psychology to conduct research. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, local and state governments frequently hire psychologists for jobs in correctional facilities, mental health clinics, public hospitals, and social service offices.

Some job titles in this area include:

  • Rehabilitation counselor
  • Social service manager
  • Parole officer
  • Vocational rehabilitation provider
  • Psychosocial specialist

Applied Psychology Careers

Applied psychologists utilize their knowledge of psychology and research methods to improve people's lives and solve real-world problems. Individuals working in these fields may start with a master's degree in psychology, but positions tend to be more plentiful with a doctorate degree.

Some job titles in this area include:

  • Industrial-Organizational Psychologists
    • These psychologists study workplace behavior and ergonomics, often working to increase productivity or efficiency. The rising demand for skilled psychologists has led to an increase in the number of university programs offering degrees in industrial-organizational psychology. I-O psychologists perform a variety of functions, including hiring qualified employees, conducting tests, designing products, creating training courses, and performing research on different aspects of the workplace.
  • Forensic Psychologists
    • Forensic psychology involves applying psychology to the field of criminal investigation and law. Forensic psychologists typically have a master's in forensic psychology at the minimum, but many hold a Ph.D. in clinical or counseling psychology. Forensic psychologists may work in various settings, including family courts, drug courts, criminal courts, or private consulting.
  • Human Factors Psychologists
    • Human factors is an area of psychology that focuses on a range of different topics, including ergonomics, workplace safety, human error, product design, human capability, and human-computer interaction. Human factors psychologists perform a number of duties such as exploring the ways that people interact with products and environments and designing interfaces that are easy to understand.

As you can see, career options with a graduate degree in psychology are highly diverse. The best way to determine what path is right for you is to evaluate your own needs and interests.

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  1. National Association of Social Workers. Types of social work degrees.

Additional Reading

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."