An Overview of Psychology Careers

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Careers in psychology tend to be quite diverse and job options depend primarily on factors such as the type of degree held, years of experience, and specialty area of choice. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, psychology ranks as the fourth most popular college major in the United States.

While options tend to be more limited for those holding an undergraduate psychology degree, there are a number of different entry-level job options available. Some of these jobs are directly related to psychology, but many are in unrelated fields.

Higher salaries and stronger advancement opportunities are typically found with a master's or doctorate degree.

Entry-Level Psychology Careers

An undergraduate degree in psychology can serve as a great foundation for further study in the subject. However, as many as 75% of all students who earn a bachelor's do not continue on to graduate school.

The U.S. Department of Labor reports that jobs tend to be much more limited at this level, but there are still some options. Common job titles for bachelor's degree-holders include psychiatric technician, case manager, and rehabilitation specialist. Other job titles that might be an option solely with a bachelor's degree include:

  • Child care worker
  • College admissions counselor
  • College recruiter
  • Correctional treatment specialist
  • Financial aid counselor
  • Probation officer
  • Research assistant
  • Youth counselor

It is also very common for people who earn a bachelor's degree in psychology to work in a field that may not be directly related to the topic. For example, many people find positions in different fields such as management, sales, human resources, and marketing.​

While many entry-level careers are not directly related to psychology, they draw on knowledge of social science and psychological principles.

Graduate Degree Options

For people who do decide to continue to study at the graduate level, there are many options to choose from. There are many different subfields of psychology and various types of psychologists.

Health Careers

Some people choose to focus on health-related careers that are centered on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illness. These psychologists often work in hospitals, mental health clinics, or in private practice and work directly with clients who are experiencing symptoms of psychological or psychiatric disorders. ​Such job titles might include:

Research Careers

In contrast, other psychologists focus mainly on research. They often work on a particular topic such as the brain, memory, attention, and other areas and are frequently employed by universities.

In addition to performing research on psychology, they may also teach undergraduate and graduate classes.​ Research-related psychology careers include:

Applied Careers

Other psychologists work in areas that allow them to solve real-world problems. For example, they might design workspaces in order to maximize safety and productivity or work in legal settings to evaluate criminal suspects. A few job titles in applied psychology include:

Job Outlook

Every year, the U.S. Department of Labor publishes their Occupational Outlook Handbook which includes projected job growth or loss for various professions over the coming years. According to their projections, psychology careers are expected to grow at a rate of 3% between 2019 and 2029.

This overall projection is as fast as the average for all occupations. Some important things to remember when looking at job outlook:

  • Demand can vary: Actual growth in individual specialty areas may vary. For example, the demand for clinical and school psychologists is expected to grow due to increased demand for psychological services in hospitals and schools.
  • Individual factors play a role: It is important to consider that factors such as education, training, and experience can also impact the job outlook for individuals working in psychology. Those who have advanced degrees in their chosen specialties are more likely to command top positions and higher salaries.
  • Some areas are more competitive: Certain professions may grow more competitive. In fields with few jobs but many qualified applicants, you may need to find something to give you an edge over the competition.

Social and economic factors, including the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, may influence the job outlook for psychologists. The mental health impact of the pandemic may also drive the need for more psychology professionals.

Educational & Training Requirements

An undergraduate degree in psychology can provide an excellent background for different entry-level jobs. Remember, however, that you will need to earn a graduate degree in psychology if you are interested in becoming a psychologist.

If you are thinking about a career in psychology, it is important to first consider your interests and goals. As you plan for your future career:

  • Do your research: Spend some time researching your options and investigate graduate programs that will be a good match for your particular interests.
  • Meet your needs: While each program may provide a strong background in psychology, each one differs in terms of its scope and focus.
  • Choose a specialty: Aim to find a program that will let you both focus on your specialty area and work in your chosen career once you graduate.
  • Create an educational plan: Exact educational and training requirements vary depending upon your chosen specialty area.

If you want to become a school psychologist, for example, you would need to earn at minimum a master's or educational specialist degree in school psychology—although many may opt to earn a doctorate degree in the subject. Additionally, school psychologists must complete a one-year internship and become licensed to work in their state.

For comparison, if you are interested in becoming a licensed clinical psychologist, then you must complete an accredited doctorate program in clinical psychology, complete an internship, and pass state licensing exams.

Make sure you are aware of all of the educational and licensure requirements you need to complete in order to work in a particular specialty area.

Careers You Might Consider

If you are not sure what type of psychology career might interest you, it can be helpful to learn more about some of the available options. The following are just a few of the various career choices that you might choose.

Clinical Psychologist

Clinical psychology is the single largest employment area within the field of psychology. Clinical psychologists assess, diagnose, and treat people living with psychological or psychiatric disorders. They typically work in hospital settings, mental health clinics, or private practices.

In order to become a clinical psychologist, you must have a doctoral-level degree in clinical psychology and most states require a minimum of a one-year internship. Most graduate school programs in clinical psychology are fairly competitive.​

Counselor

Counselors help people with a wide variety of problems, including marriage, family, emotional, educational, and substance abuse issues. Nearly half of all counselors work in health care or social welfare settings. Others work for state and local governments. Typical work settings include:

  • Colleges and universities
  • K-12 schools
  • Hospitals
  • Mental health clinics
  • Private practice

Though requirements vary, almost all states mandate at least a master's degree in order to become a licensed counselor.

Engineering Psychologist

Engineering psychologists use psychology to examine how people interact with machines and other technology. These professionals use their understanding of the human mind and behavior to help design and improve technology, consumer products, work settings, and living environments.

For example, an engineering psychologist might work as part of a team to redesign a product to make it more efficient and easier to use in a work situation. Those working in academic settings report the lowest earnings, while others in the private sector report higher salaries.​

Forensic Psychologist

Forensic psychologists apply psychology to the fields of criminal investigation and law. The field may not be as dramatic as it is depicted in pop culture, but it is still an exciting career choice with a lot of potential for growth.

Forensic psychologists often work in the legal system with other experts to deal with family, civil, or criminal issues. They may be involved in child custody assessments, scrutinize insurance claims, evaluate mental health issues in criminal cases, and provide expert testimony.​

Most forensic psychologists have a doctorate degree, although there may be some limited options with a master's degree.

Health Psychologist

Health psychologists are interested in how mental, emotional, and social factors influence health and illness. They often work in hospitals or government settings to help promote healthy behaviors and prevent illness.

For example, they may research the causes of health problems, administer community health programs, and help people choose healthy behaviors. Health psychologists typically hold a Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree in psychology.

Industrial-Organizational Psychologist

Industrial-organizational (I-O) psychologists focus on workplace behavior, often using psychological principles to increase worker productivity and to select employees that are best suited for particular jobs. There are several different specialty areas within industrial-organizational psychology. For example, some I-O psychologists train and assess employees and others evaluate job candidates.

While there are some employment opportunities at the master's degree level, those with a doctoral degree in industrial-organizational psychology are in greater demand. Professionals with doctorate degrees also tend to command significantly higher salaries.​

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, I/O psychologists should expect competition for jobs due to the large number of qualified people working in the field. 

School Psychologist

School psychologists work in educational settings to help children deal with emotional, academic, and social problems. School psychologists also work with kids who have behavioral issues, learning disabilities, and other needs.

Thanks to increased interest in the mental health of children and federal education legislation, school psychology has become one of the fastest-growing fields. However, it is important to note that the employment of these professionals is contingent upon local and state budgets, which can affect the number of jobs available.

Sports Psychologist

Sports psychologists focus on the psychological aspects of sports and athletics, including topics such as motivation, performance, and injury. The two major areas within sports psychology are centered on helping improve athletic performance and on using sports to improve mental and physical health.

Sports psychologists work in a wide variety of settings including universities, hospitals, athletic centers, private consulting practices, and research facilities.​

A Word From Verywell

Psychology is an incredibly diverse field and careers can range from those that focus on mental health to those centered on research. People who are interested in a psychology career should spend time carefully researching their options in order to determine which specialty area is right for their needs, interests, and goals.

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Article 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. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Digest of Education Statistics, 2014 (NCES 2016-006) Chapter 3; 2016.

  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics. How to become a psychologist. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Updated September 1, 2020.

  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Psychologists: job outlook. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Updated September 1, 2020.

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