Careers with a Bachelor's Degree
Nearly 50 percent of all psychology graduates at the baccalaureate level will seek a full-time job immediately after they graduate. The good news is that of the psychology majors entering the labor force one year after graduation, 90 percent were employed. After two years, it was 94 percent.
Psychology is the second most popular undergraduate major behind business administration. In 1996, about 65,000 college seniors graduated with a degree in psychology, but many were not necessarily interested in a career as a psychologist. In fact, the National Center for Education Statistics (1993) reports that 20 percent of psychology baccalaureate recipients work in social services or public affairs, 21 percent in administrative support, 14 percent in education, 10 percent in business, 10 percent in sales, 9 percent in service personnel, and 5 percent in health professions. An additional 3 percent find themselves working in computer science and an equal percentage in biological sciences.
The career of "psychologist" is not open to the BA or BS psychology graduate. American psychology has clearly made the decision that the doctorate -- and the master's degree in school psychology -- is the entry level qualification. Therefore, we cannot honestly speak of the baccalaureate in psychology as preparation for a career in psychology. Similarly, a baccalaureate degree in political science does not qualify an individual to practice law, and a baccalaureate in biology does not make one a physician.
All this is to say that the study of psychology at the bachelor’s level is fine preparation for many other professions. Indeed, a liberal arts education with a psychology major enhances those skills critical to job success. These are:
- Critical thinking
- Oral communication
- Interpersonal skills
- Writing ability
- Problem-solving skills
Researchers contacted private employers and found a strong positive response to employees with human relations skills coupled with research skills. Other research indicates that employers give the highest ratings to individuals with strengths in writing proposals and reports, applying knowledge to identify and solve problems, conducting interviews, and performing statistical analyses.
The argument that a psychology degree is good preparation for many careers is supported by a recent report from the National Science Foundation on bachelor's degree recipients in psychology. The work functions of these graduates covered a broad range: 30% in management or administration, 28% in sales and/or professional services, 16% in teaching, and 12% in production or inspection.
Looking specifically at college graduates' prospects in business, two major studies examined the relationship between college experiences and management potential. Of all the educational experiences considered, undergraduate major was the strongest predictor of managerial performance and progress. Psychology majors fell within the category of social science. This group had the best overall record, with particular strengths in interpersonal and verbal skills and motivation to advance.
The one general weakness of social science majors was in quantitative ability. Psychology, however, is an exception to this and provides an excellent quantitative background. This attests to the value of the Department's policy of requiring competence in math, statistics, and research methods.
What Business Employers are Looking for
Eison (1988) had 362 representatives of business and industry who were actively interviewing college students complete a questionnaire on 15 factors pertaining to hiring psychology graduates. The 5 most important were: personality of students, grades in major courses, nature of non-college jobs held, overall grade point average, and awards/honors/publications.
Similarly, employers participating in a survey conducted by the American Management Society were asked to select from among nine traits the most important characteristic of candidates applying for an entry-level college graduate position. The percent rating each item as most significant was as follows (from Pilla, 1984):
Implications for job-seekers thus include: practicing your interviewing skills; polishing your communication style; maintaining a positive grade point average; and seeking career-relevant work experiences.
Overall, psychology graduates are entering all kinds of occupations. The bachelor's degree in psychology affords flexible employment. You are obviously not limited to positions in mental and psychological services. Your degree can lead to a variety of worthwhile and exciting careers. It is up to you to decide the direction to take.
A Plethora of Job Opportunities
Students often think only of mental hospitals as employment sites for those interested in work related to psychology. Listed below are many types of agencies and settings. In all of these, persons with bachelor's degrees have found interesting and challenging positions which utilize their knowledge of psychology.
- Community Relations Officer: works either for business or government in promoting good relations with the local community.
- Affirmative Action Officer: works for recruitment and equal opportunities for minorities; employed by business, industries, schools and government.
- Management Trainee: plans and supervises operations of a business concern.
- Urban Planning Officer: deals with city planning, renewal.
- Personnel Administrator: works with employee relations, selection, promotions, etc.
- Advertising Copywriter: researches audience and media, writes text of advertisements.
- Media Buyer: researches products and audiences to select most effective media for advertising.
- Health Educator: gives public information about health and disease.
- Psychological Technician: administers routine tests, helps with patients under supervision of a psychologist.
- Director of Volunteer Service: recruits, supervises, trains and evaluates volunteers.
- Public Statistician: collects and interprets data on health and disease and community relations.
- Customs Inspector: serves at international borders and airports in investigations and inquiries.
- Probation/Parole Officer: persons with psychology backgrounds are often preferred for such positions, especially with adolescent parolees.
- Technical Writer: researches and writes material dealing with social science for magazines, newspapers, and journals.
- Sales Representative: major publishers of psychological books often seek out undergraduates with psychology majors for these positions on college campuses.
- Opinion Survey Researcher: does opinion polls and interprets results.
- Daycare Center Supervisor: supervises and coordinates activities of preschool children with working parents.
- Research Assistant: assists in the collection and analysis of data for major investigations. Positions usually available only in large hospitals, businesses, and government.
- Laboratory Assistant: psychology background preferred for students working with animal behavior research, especially primate laboratories.
- Scientific Instrument Salesperson: opportunities in sales and development for companies specializing in psychology apparatus.
We have not listed the numerous kinds of "counselor" roles that are available to many students with a bachelor's degree in a variety of social service and mental health agencies. Many of these programs provide interesting live-in possibilities with adequate pay; while they often do not have much of a future as a career, for a beginning post-bachelor's position they can be quite challenging.
Fretz, B.R. (1976). Finding careers with a bachelor's degree in psychology. Psi Chi Newsletter, 2 (2), 5-9.
Goodstein, L.D. (1987). What are 40,000 psychology majors going to do next year? Psi Chi Newsletter, 13, 1-5.
The University of Scranton's Office of Career Services (OCS) conducts an annual survey of post-graduation activities. Following is a sampling of job titles reported by our psychology graduates in the past several years.
|Administrative Case Manager||Mental Health Counselor|
|Advertising Sales Assistant||Nutrition Counselor|
|Assistant Buyer||Officer – US Air Force|
|Assistant Teacher||Patient Services Coordinator|
|Behavior Support Assistant||Pharmacy Technician|
|Case Manager||Preschool Teacher|
|Case Worker||Probation Officer|
|Clinical Research Assistant||Purchasing Analyst|
|Counselor||Recreation Aide – Kids Peace|
|Counselor Advocate||Research Assistant|
|Customer Service Representative||Research Program Assistant|
|Drug and Alcohol Treatment Specialist||Residential Counselor|
|Educational Treatment Counselor||School Base Behav. Health Worker|
|Employment Specialist||Second Lieutenant – US Army|
|Field Representative||Secret Service|
|First Grade Teacher||Service Worker|
|Healthcare Rep.||Special Education Aide|
|Human Resources Assistant||Teacher|
|Intensive Case Manager||Therapeutic Staff Support|
|Journalist||TSS – Autism|
|Life Skills Trainer||Volunteer/Carpenter - Americorps|
|Mental Health||Volunteer - Mercy Volunteer Corps|