It's the fourth most popular major in the country and yet relatively few graduates in this field go on to pursue their education through the doctoral level. What is it? Psychology.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 123,920 bachelor's degrees in psychology were conferred in the 2014-15 school year, and that certainly wasn't the first time the field ranked as a top choice among students. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports only 118,990 psychologists were working in 2014. Given the major's popularity, it seems that many people end their studies before the doctoral level, which is the degree needed to become a licensed psychologist.
While in some cases this is because students move on to a complimentary field such as social work or public health, others may stop studying psychology because they feel daunted by the level of education needed or they don't understand the possibilities presented by a career as a psychologist.
Online-education.net spoke to Dr. Katie Tart Allen to learn more about the reasons to become a psychologist. Allen had started her undergraduate studies in zoology before moving on to psychology. She went on to earn a doctorate in clinical psychology (Psy.D.) and currently works at Greenlee Psychological & Support Services in Durham, North Carolina.
Allen notes that she needed extensive training -- including three practicums, one internship and one post-doctoral fellowship -- but she says it was worth it. Here are five of the reasons you might think so, too.
1. You Can Pursue Diverse Career Opportunities.
Psychologists have plenty of options when it comes to selecting their career path. "There is therapy, assessment, research, consultative services, teaching [and more]," explains Allen. "I do both therapy and assessment, and I love them both for different reasons."
In addition to a specific type of work, psychologists can focus their efforts on a variety of populations and issues, making this one career that is highly customizable. The American Psychological Association lists 57 topics in the field which may be areas in which psychologists can specialize. These include the following:
- Death and dying
- Safety and design
2. Psychologists Can Make a Difference in the Lives of Others.
For Allen, one of the best reasons to become a psychologist is the opportunity to help others. "There is something very powerful about sitting with someone who trusts you and is willing to be vulnerable and talk about the difficult things in life," she says of her therapy work.
Even those who aren't working directly with clients can find deep meaning and satisfaction in their jobs. A career as a psychologist is centered on discovering what drives human behavior and motivation, and those findings can lead to the creation of innovations intended to improve the quality of life for a broad spectrum of people.
3. The Career Offers Flexible Working Arrangements.
Whether you want to work independently or be part of a team, psychology careers can be a good choice since professionals in the field can do either. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found one-third of psychologists were self-employed in 2014, and these individuals have the added flexibility of setting their own hours to work when they want.
Allen adds that it can be a good fit for those who have a family. "It is a diverse field with many different opportunities and the chance for a flexible work schedule," she says.
4. Psychologists Can Earn Above Average Pay.
While money isn't necessarily the driving factor for many psychologists, it doesn't hurt that this is a career offering above-average salaries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, professionals in the field had the following average annual incomes in 2015:
- Clinical, counseling and school psychologists: $76,040
- Industrial-organizational psychologists: $92,320
- All other psychologists: $93,050
What's more, there should be continued opportunities to enter the field with the government anticipating jobs for most psychologists will increase 19 percent from 2014-2024.
5. You Learn How to Unravel the Mysteries of the Mind.
This last reason to become a psychologist may be the one that brings people to this field of study in the first place. The human mind can be a complex machine, and psychologists learn how it reacts and responds in different situations. While this knowledge has practical applications in everything from business to sports, it also a fascinating subject on its own.
Allen notes that is one reason she likes performing assessments. "I enjoy being able to help answer questions with test data. It is a challenge to try to integrate all of the data and make sense of it in a way that is helpful to the client," she says. "I never thought I would enjoy writing reports, but it is a nice balance to therapy."
There are a number of reasons to consider a career as a psychologist, and Allen suggests students who may be on the fence try working with community-based organizations to see if the field is a good fit. She volunteered for a suicide hotline and with an organization serving children with autism during her undergrad years. "There are many ways to help people," Allen says, "but if you find yourself really interested in psychological research and fascinated by psychological concepts, this could be the career for you."
Check out more information about online psychology degree programs.
- Interview with Katie Tart Allen
- National Center for Education Statistics, https://nces.ed.gov
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Psychologists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm4.
- Psychology Topics, American Psychological Association, http://www.apa.org/topics/index.asp