Career Paths within the Major

Psychology is a broad and rich field that touches on all human behavior. Here are some of the avenues you can pursue within psychology proper. Of course, psychology majors also work within dozens of other fields, as seen on our Career Outcomes page.

Clinical psychologists assess, treat, and prevent mental disorders. Such problems may range from the normal psychological crises (e.g., rebellion in adolescence, inadequate self-esteem) to extreme conditions such as schizophrenia or major depression. Many clinical psychologists also do research. For example, they may study the characteristics of psychotherapists associated with improvements of patients the factors that contribute to anxiety.

Clinical psychologists work in both academic institutions and health care settings such as clinics, hospitals, community mental health centers, and private practices. Many clinical psychologists focus their interests on special populations such as children, minority groups, or the elderly. Others focus on treating certain types of problems, such as anxiety, eating disorders, or depression. Opportunities in clinical psychology are expanding relative to populations that have not been served well in the past: children, families, the elderly, inmates, ethnic groups, and rural dwellers. These opportunities exist in clinics, in other human service settings, and in private practices.

People with master's and bachelor's degrees may not independently practice psychology. They may, however, work in clinical settings under the direction of a doctoral-level psychologist. In some cases this work could include testing or supervised therapy.

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Community psychologists are concerned with everyday behavior in natural settings -- the home, the neighborhood, and the workplace. They seek to understand the factors that contribute to normal and abnormal behavior in these settings. They also work to promote health and prevent disorder. Whereas clinical psychologists tend to focus on individuals who show signs of disorder, most community psychologists concentrate their efforts on groups of people who are not mentally disordered (but may be at risk of becoming so) or on the population in general.  

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Counseling psychologists foster and improve human functioning across the life span by helping people solve problems, make decisions, and cope with stress. Typically, counseling psychologists work with moderately maladjusted people, individually or in groups, assessing their needs and providing a variety of therapies. They apply research-based approaches to help understand problems and develop solutions.

Counseling psychologists often use research to evaluate the effectiveness of treatments. Research methods may include structured tests, interviews, interest inventories, and observations. They also may be involved in a variety of activities, such as helping people adjust to college, consulting on physical problems that might have psychological causes, teaching graduate-level practica in counseling, or developing techniques that students can use to reduce their anxiety about taking examinations.

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Environmental psychologists are concerned with how humans affect, and are affected by, environments.  Topics of interest to environmental psychologists include territoriality, personal space, crowding, cognitive mapping of places, effects of urban life on city dwellers, the restorative effects of nature, and the effects of weather and noise on human behavior.  An environmental psychologist, for example, might study how we can improve the design of a neighborhood to reduce stress and crime. 

Conservation psychologists work in a related area concerned specifically with the human impact on the environment.  Conservation psychologists conduct research designed to understand and solve environmental problems, such as global warming.  For example, a conservation psychologist might investigate the effectiveness of a social norms marketing campaign to reduce home energy consumption.

Environmental and conservation psychologists can be found in a wide array of academic and nonacademic settings.  Consultants and academics typically have a doctoral degree, but environmental psychologists can also be employed with a master’s degree in federal agencies, urban and regional planning agencies, and environmental design firms.

For an overview of Conservation psychology, please visit 

Evolutionary psychologists (EPs) study human nature. EPs are interested in discovering and understanding the information-processing mechanisms that evolved to solve ancestral adaptive problems. They believe that knowledge of psychology can be gained by considering how our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors increased our ancestors’ reproduction. EPs use a multitude of methods to explore a broad range of topics including eating, language, gossip, mating, parenting, kinship, cooperation, altruism, aggression, warfare, and conflict between the sexes.

Evolutionary psychologists usually have Ph.D.s and work in academic settings where they teach, supervise undergraduate or graduate research, and conduct their own research.  For additional information (including a list of graduate programs), see

Exercise and sport psychology can be defined as the “study of the psychological aspects of sport”; however, sport psychology is not limited to sports and may include any type of physical activity or exercise.  Thus, sport psychology may address any aspect of athletes’ or performers’ lives to assist them in their performance and life endeavors.  Sport psychologists examine topics such as the ways an athlete can use visualization techniques and ways sports teams can cooperate to work more effectively together. 

Like other psychologists, some sport psychologists conduct research in academic, clinical, government, and business settings.  Others help individuals and teams improve their athletic performance and training coaches to help them become more productive.  For further information in this area, please refer to

"Experimental psychologist" is a general title applied to a diverse group of psychologists who conduct research on and often teach basic behavioral processes. These processes include: learning, sensation, perception, motivation, memory, language, thinking, and the physiological processes underlying behaviors such as eating, reading, and problem solving. Experimental psychologists study the processes by which humans take in, store, retrieve, express, and apply knowledge.

Most experimental psychologists work in academic settings, teaching courses and supervising students' research in addition to conducting their own research. Experimental psychologists are also employed by research institutions, business, industry, and government. A research-oriented doctoral degree is usually needed for advancement and mobility in experimental psychology.

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“Forensic psychology” is the term given to the applied and clinical facets of psychology and law. Forensic psychologists might help a judge decide which parent should have custody of the children or evaluate the victim of an accident to determine if he or she sustained psychological or neurological damage. In criminal cases, forensic psychologists might evaluate a defendant's mental competence to stand trial.

Some specialists in this field have doctoral degrees in both psychology and law. Others were trained in a clinical psychology program and chose courses, research topics, and practical experiences to fit their interest in psychology and law. Jobs for people with doctoral degrees are available in psychology departments, law schools, research organizations, law enforcement agencies, courts, and correctional settings. Some forensic psychologists work in private practice.

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Researchers in the psychology of aging (geropsychology) study the factors associated with adult development and aging. For example, they may investigate how the brain and the nervous system change as humans age and what effects those changes have on behavior or how a person's style of coping with problems varies with age.

Many people interested in the psychology of aging are trained in a more traditional graduate program in psychology, such as experimental, clinical, developmental, or social. While they are enrolled in such a program, they become geropsychologists by focusing their research, coursework, and practical experiences on adult development and aging.  Geropsychologists are finding jobs in academic settings, research centers, industry, health care organizations, and agencies serving the elderly.

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Clinical health psychologists are researchers and practitioners concerned with psychology's contribution to the promotion and the maintenance of good health, and the prevention and the treatment of illness. As clinicians, they may design and conduct programs to help individuals stop smoking, lose weight, manage stress, or stay physically fit. As researchers, they seek to identify practices that are associated with health and illness. For example, they might study the effects of relocation on elderly persons' physical well-being. In public service roles, they study and work to improve government policies and systems for health care.

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Industrial/organizational psychologists are concerned with the relation between people and work. Their interests include organizational structure and organizational change; workers' productivity and job satisfaction; selection, placement, and development of personnel; and the interaction between humans and machines. Their responsibilities on the job include research, development, and problem solving.  I/O psychologists work in businesses, industries, governments, and universities. Some may be self-employed as consultants or work for management consulting firms.

Jobs for industrial/organizational psychologists are available at both the master's and the doctoral level. Opportunities for those with master's degrees tend to be concentrated in business, industry, and government settings; doctoral-level psychologists also work in academic settings and independent consulting work.

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Neuropsychologists investigate the relation between physical systems and behavior. Topics they study include the relation of specific biochemical mechanisms in the brain to behavior, the relation of brain structure to function, and the chemical and physical changes that occur in the body when we experience different emotions.

Clinical neuropsychologists work in the neurology, neurosurgery, psychiatric, and pediatric units of hospitals, and in clinics. They also work in academic settings where they conduct research and train others. Most positions in neuropsychology are at the doctoral level, and many require postdoctoral training.

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The psychology of women and men is the study of factors affecting gender development and behavior. The field includes the study of stereotypes, the relation of hormones to behavior, and the development of gender roles, gender identity, and sexuality.

Psychologists focusing on the psychology of gender are found in academic settings and a variety of clinical settings. Current research topics include reactions to rape, factors that promote managerial success, and factors that discourage talented girls from obtaining advanced mathematics training. Clinicians whose area of concentration is the psychology of women may practice feminist therapy with women and girls. Clinicians whose area of concentration is the psychology of men focus on psychotherapy with men.

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Psychometric and quantitative psychologists are concerned with the methods used in acquiring and applying psychological knowledge. A psychometrician may revise old intelligence or personality tests or devise new ones. Other quantitative psychologists might assist a researcher in psychology or in another field design to interpret the results of an experiment. To accomplish these tasks, they may design new techniques of analyzing information.

Psychometricians and quantitative psychologists typically are well trained in mathematics, statistics, computer programming, and technology. Doctoral-level psychometricians and quantitative psychologists are employed mainly by universities and colleges, testing companies, private research firms, and government agencies. Those with master's degrees often work for testing companies and private research firms.

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School psychologists help educators and others promote the intellectual, social, and emotional development of children. They are also involved in creating environments that facilitate learning and mental health. They evaluate and plan programs for children with special needs or disruptive behavior in the classroom. They sometimes engage in program development and staff consultation to prevent problems. They sometimes provide on-the-job training for teachers in classroom management, consult with parents on ways to support a child's efforts in school, and consult with school administrators on psychological and educational issues.

To be employed in the public schools, school psychologists must have completed a state-approved master’s program and be certified by the state. Certification as a school psychologist can usually be obtained after 60 hours of graduate work and a one-year supervised internship.

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Social psychologists study how people interact with each other and how they are affected by their social environments. Topics of interest to social psychologists include the formation of attitudes and attitude change, attractions between people such as friendship and love, prejudice, group dynamics, and violence and aggression. Social psychologists might, for example, study how attitudes toward the elderly influence the elderly person's self-concept, or they might investigate how unwritten rules of behavior develop in groups and how those rules regulate the conduct of group members.

Social psychologists can be found in a wide variety of academic settings and, increasingly, in many nonacademic settings. For example, more social psychologists than before now work in advertising agencies, corporations, and architectural and engineering firms as researchers, consultants, and personnel managers.

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Psychologists earn a wide range of salaries, depending more on the nature of their job than on their particular specialty. For example, a person with a B.S. in psychology working as a Mental Health Technician might make $30,000 a year, while an academic psychologist at a university might make $70,000-$180,000. Similarly, a psychologist working in research at a drug company or a management position will probably make more than one who is a university professor. A doctoral-level clinical psychologist in full-time independent practice will average $125,000 a year. More experienced psychologists typically earn more than the average, of course.

Master-level mental health professionals predictably earn less than doctoral-level clinical or counseling psychologists. School psychologists with a masters degree average $75,000 per year. Masters-level clinicians, such as counselors and social workers, in agencies will earn between $35,000 and $50,000 and those in private practice closer to $65,000.

High-paying jobs in psychology per se are rare, if not impossible, without a graduate degree. In general, people with graduate degrees earn more if they are employed by industry, the federal government, or in private practice. Jobs in public agencies and universities (with the exception of administrative positions) typically have lower, although still quite adequate, pay scales.


2017 Average Salaries for Psychologists

Type of Position

Doctoral level 

Faculty Position – Full Professor


Faculty Position – Assistant Professor


Educational Administration


Private Practice 


Research Positions


Management Positions 


School Psychology


I/O Psychology


Source: 2017 National Survey of College Graduates, National Science Foundation