How to Start a Career In Psychology

Illustrated psychology concept
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Are you interested in a career in a psychology-related field but not quite sure where to begin? Do you have a question about psychology careers? Because there is so much diversity in the field of psychology when it comes to individual career paths, deciding where you want to go can be a daunting prospect. As you plan your way forward, it pays to do research on the different options that are available and carefully decide which area seems to be the best possible fit for your interests, needs, and goals.

Before you decide which path is right for you, spend some time finding answers to some of your biggest questions.

The following are just a few of the basic questions that many people ask when considering a career in psychology.


The title of psychologist is often used as a blanket term to describe anyone who works in a psychology field, but there are actually major differences between different types of psychologists. For example, some psychologists known as clinical psychologists work with people who are experiencing psychological difficulties and perform tasks such as assessing, diagnosing, and treating these clients.

Another type of psychologist is an industrial-organizational psychologist. These professionals work with businesses and other organizations to solve work-related issues. They might focus on designed safe and efficient work spaces or creating organizational structures that maximize productivity and efficiency.

So how do you determine which type of psychologist you might want to be? One way to begin is to consider the general type of psychology you might want to practice and where you want to work. If you are interested in helping people improve their lives directly, you might want to consider a career in mental health or in an applied area outside of mental health. If you are more interested in researching how people think and behave, then you might want to consider a career in an experimental field.

Specialty Areas

Once you have a better idea of which types of psychologist you might like to be, you can then focus your career-planning on the specialty area that seems the most suited to your goals and interests. One of the greatest things about psychology is that there are so many different career paths to choose from. Whether you are fascinated by research or interested in applying psychological theories in the real world, there is bound to be an area that is perfect for your interests.

Just a few of the specific specialty areas in psychology include clinical psychology, educational psychology, industrial-organizational psychology, and social psychology. Start by exploring the different specialty areas in psychology to learn more.

Kind of Work Performed 

Psychologists work in a wide range of professional areas. Even psychologists working in the same specialty area may find that their specific duties vary widely. This is because the nature of psychology work can vary tremendously depending on exactly where a professional is employed, the needs of their employer, and the needs of the populations they serve.

Mental health, academics, and research are just some of the major areas of interest a psychologist might pursue. Psychologists are also well suited to work in business, government, education, and mental health. Discover more about the nature of psychology work and what it is really like to be a psychologist.

Work Environment

How a psychologist spends each day and under what type of working conditions are both affected largely by exactly where the professional is employed. For example, many psychologists work at colleges and universities, while others work in prisons, hospitals, or private practices. Some work individually with clients while others treat patients with a team of professionals.

Before you decide on a career in psychology, spend some time thinking about where you might like to work one day. Understanding where different psychologists work is important, so spend some time learning more about the working conditions of psychologists.


A 2018 study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that bachelor’s students who had graduated with psychology degrees had an average starting pay of $35,285, which was significantly lower compared to similar majors. However, it is important to remember that earnings and salaries of psychologists vary widely depending on education level, experience, and specialization.

In their Occupational Outlook Handbook, the U.S. Department of Labor reports that the median annual earnings for psychologists was $79,010 as of 2018. If you've ever considered a career in psychology, then you probably should spend a little time investigating the typical earnings and salaries of psychologists.

While it is important to note that salary should not be your only consideration when selecting a career path, it is important to be aware of what you can expect to make when entering any profession.

Those who earn a master's or doctoral degree in psychology have a much higher earning potential than those who only hold a bachelor's degree.

Education and Training

Just how long does it take to become a psychologist? The answer depends on a lot of factors including which specialty area you plan on going into. It is also important to note that there are a number of career options available for those with doctoral, master's, and bachelor’s degrees in psychology. Before you pick a specialty area, it pays to figure out the training and qualifications you'll need to work in that field.

For example, if you are interested in becoming a clinical psychologist, you will need to first earn a bachelor's degree in psychology (which usually takes 4 to 5 years) before earning a doctorate degree (which then takes an additional 5 to 7 years). Some doctorate programs require that you earn a master's degree in psychology before enrolling.. Once you have completed your graduate training, you will then need to complete an internship as well as pass state licensing exams in order to become licensed to practice in your state.

If, however, you were planning to become an experimental psychologist, you would not need a license to build your career. You would probably begin by earning your bachelor's degree in psychology before enrolling in a master's program devoted to research and experimental study. A master's degree may take 2 to 3 years of study. Many people then go on to complete a doctoral program. An advanced degree is often necessary to get hired for research studies or obtain grant money.

Demand Outlook

The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that the demand for psychologists will grow by 14% between 2018 and 2028, a rate that is much faster than the average for all professions in the United States (5%). However, they also note that growth will vary depending upon specialty area.

Specialty areas including clinical psychologists, school psychologists, and industrial-organizational psychologists are expected to be in high demand over the coming years. When you are considering a career path, it is always a good idea to understand the possible job outlook before you commit. After all, you want to ensure that there will be a demand for your skills and services once you graduate and enter the workforce.

Bachelor's Degree

So what sort of potential is there for those who want to work in a psychology-related profession but are not interested in going to graduate school? While those with an undergraduate degree will not enjoy the same job demand and salary that those with advanced degrees encounter, there are still plenty of things that you can do with a bachelors-level degree.

There are a number of different entry-level jobs for college graduates with a bachelor's degree. However, it is important to note that options tend to be more limited at the undergraduate level. Undergraduate education in psychology helps students develop skills that are important in a variety of careers.

Graduate Degree

Earning a graduate degree in psychology can open a lot of doors in terms of career selection, salary, and opportunity for advancement. Those with graduate degrees are usually more in demand and may have an easier time finding employment in their chosen specialty area. Salaries also tend to be much higher at this level, although there is considerable variation based on the area of employment, years of experience, and geographic location.

It is also important to note that with many careers, such as clinical and counseling psychology, having a graduate degree is actually a requirement for becoming licensed.

Which Career Is Right for You?

As you have seen, there are a lot of different options to choose from when you are selecting a career in psychology. If you are still unsure of where you might fit, you might want to take a quick quiz to get a general idea of where to begin your career planning. Psychology is a diverse field with a wide range of career options, so a little planning now can help you find a specialty area that is perfect for you.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Association of Colleges and Employers. First destinations for the college class of 2018: Findings and analysis.

  2. U.S. Department of Labor. Psychologists. Occupational Outlook Handbook.

  3. American Psychological Association. Pursuing a Career in Clinical Psychology.

  4. American Psychological Association. Pursuing a Career in Experimental Psychology.

  5. The Princeton Review. Experimental Psychology.

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is the author of the "Everything Psychology Book (2nd Edition)" and has written thousands of articles on diverse psychology topics. Kendra holds a Master of Science degree in education from Boise State University with a primary research interest in educational psychology and a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Idaho State University with additional coursework in substance use and case management.