Priya Desai 7 min read 12th Grade, Academic Tips and Info

Should You Major In Psychology?

Psychology is the science of human behavior and mental processes. The subject covers cognitive processes like thinking, learning, and memory. It traces everyday happenings like social interactions back to complex evolutionary and biological origins. The applications of psychology are widespread, and as such, the subject has many diverse subfields, such as health psychology, developmental psychology, and forensic psychology. 

 

If you’re interested in studying psychology, this post will help you figure out whether the subject is right for you. You’ll also learn about potential career paths and the best schools for  psychology.

Overview of the Psychology Major

 

Most of the course requirements for undergraduate psychology majors are science-based, so expect to take some form of biology, physics, and chemistry. However, these probably won’t be as intensive as courses for majors in the hard sciences. As a social science major, you should also expect to take classes in the fields of linguistics, philosophy, or sociology. These provide complementary subject material that can better inform your knowledge of a subject. 

 

Core psychology courses usually include topics like developmental, behavioral, social, and cognitive psychology. Curriculum also usually involves an introductory statistics course and possibly a research methods course. As you progress through college, courses become more specialized. You might take courses on psychology as it relates to relationships, media, or education.

 

Psychology classes are usually large, even at the upper division level. This is because there are a lot of students with that major, although this probably doesn’t hold true at smaller universities. Classes are usually lecture-based, although larger schools might accompany these with weekly discussion for a smaller, more intimate learning environment. You might take some laboratory courses as well. 

 

In terms of coursework, psychology has a lot of vocabulary terms with regard to neuroanatomy, disorders, and theories. This entails a lot of memorization-based questions on assessments, so if your strengths lie in that, you would excel in the subject. If you genuinely enjoy learning new content and applying it to hypothetical patient situations, psychology will be a good fit for you. For students that struggle to memorize detailed information, this major could be challenging.

 

In addition to memorization-based assessments, psychology professors also sometimes assign a paper or two. This is different from an English paper, however; psychology papers have their own style and criteria. Most high school students use MLA format, but psychology courses heavily use APA format as the default. Thus, students may have to adjust to this different, more analytic and scientific style of writing. 

 

Regarding homework, the assignment style can either be more individualistic or collaborative depending on the professor. I’ve had course grades depend almost solely on two multiple-choice assessments, so while I was able to study and prepare with friends, my grade acquisition was a solo effort. I’ve also had extremely collaborative courses, where there was ample groupwork during the lecture itself, and long-term projects. 

 

As scientists, psychology professors are always looking for trends that foment student engagement and learning, and as such, lectures can be pretty entertaining and assignments are, for the most part, reasonable and productive. For example, a couple of my professors opted to allow students to have assessments be partially group efforts, as recent studies have claimed this stimulates learning and improves material retention. 

 

Post-undergrad, psychology students have several options to continue their education. Many continue onto grad school and get their master’s degrees. For those with more science or health-heavy backgrounds, medical school for psychiatry could posit a viable option. Psychology majors can also definitely apply to law school, as this course of grad school has no prerequisites, and knowledge of neural tendencies could inform casework. Psychology coursework is also a good foundation for business school, especially in human resource and management trajectories. 

 

What Can You Do With A Psychology Degree?

 

1. Psychiatrist 

Median Salary: $102k-294k

Projected Growth: 12%

 

Psychiatry is the study and treatment of mental illness, or abnormal behavior, and it is a great way to apply your undergraduate psychology education to benefit real patients. Psychiatrists must go to medical school after their undergraduate career, so students should know that this is a large time and schooling commitment should they choose to go down this path.

 

If you’re interested in the medical field and with one-on-one patient interaction, this is a good career path option for you. However, if you struggle with hard sciences and do not want to interact with individuals in this intimate context, this career may not be a good fit. 

 

2. Therapist

Median Salary: $50k-87k

Projected Growth: 22%

 

Like psychiatrists, therapists interact with patients and diagnose and treat mental health disorders. The major difference is that therapists do not go to medical school, but rather, complete a master’s program, which involves fewer years of schooling. Therapists can provide various types of counseling, such as marriage and family, guidance and career, and mental health. 

 

If you’re looking forward to working with patients in an intimate setting, this could be a good career option for you. However, if you want a less clinical and more office-type work setting, this might not be a good career path for you to undertake.

 

3. Industrial-Organizational Psychologist

Median Salary: $48k-130k

Projected Growth: 3%

 

For those students interested in business, industrial-organizational psychology provides an avenue for entrance into this field. I/O psychologists help large corporations deal with productivity issues, such as lost work hours, employee satisfaction, and lack of business growth. This job requires an understanding of social psychology and expertise in business best practices and work ethics.  

 

4. Human Resources Management 

Median Salary: $48k-95k

Projected Growth: 6%

 

Human resource management is similar to industrial/organizational psychology, but does not require a master’s degree. Human resource departments of a business can perform a wide range of tasks. This can involve recruiting, onboarding, and training new employees. It could also entail solving workplace disputes and engaging in strategic planning for the company. 

 

This is a good job for people who enjoy improving and optimizing existing structures, as the HR department is consistently ensuring that the workplace is evolving in a positive direction. This role would not be a good fit for people who are extremely conflict-avoidant, as HR personnel often have to perform disciplinary actions and resolve office disputes. 

 

5. Teacher 

Median Salary: $36k-78k

Projected Growth: 4%

 

Students who have a psychology undergraduate education can also get their teacher’s certificate and become an educator. They can teach any number of social sciences, including psychology, depending on what subjects they get their certification in. Furthermore, psychology undergraduates can go into special education. 

 

Teaching is a good career for students who are motivated to give back to the education field and have the patience to work with kids. However, career growth can be slow, so this is not a good fit for students who are looking to see quick upward financial trajectories.

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Best Colleges for Psychology Majors

 

1. Yale University 

Location: New Haven, CT

Acceptance Rate: 6.3%

Undergrad Enrollment: 6,092

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1450-1560 SAT, 33-35 ACT

 

Yale is a prestigious Ivy League school that is extremely well-known and selective. The school is located in New Haven, Connecticut, a coastal city on the Long Island Sound. 

 

Yale’s Psychology department offers students the chance to take courses in parallel sequences, and students can sample from a broad range of courses before taking more advanced, specialized ones. The major is divided by social science and natural science, and students are expected to take courses in both areas. There is also a neuroscience track, through which students can engage with neuroscientific content in addition to psychology coursework. 

 

Learn more about Yale and what it takes to get accepted.

 

2. Rice University 

Location: Houston, TX

Acceptance Rate: 11.1%

Undergrad Enrollment: 3,989

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1470-1560 SAT, 33-35 ACT

 

Rice University is a private institution in Houston, Texas known for its top-tier research programs, including in the social sciences and humanities. Dubbed the “Ivy League of the South,” it was ranked the best university in Texas as of US News & World Report’s 2021 Best Colleges List. 

 

Like many other schools, the Psychology department at Rice recommends students to take core courses in a number of major psychological subfields before choosing which electives to pursue. There are several interdisciplinary Research Interest Groups in the department, such as Human Factors & Human-Computer Interaction and Psychometrics & Quantitative Psychology. Rice possesses partnerships with institutions within the Texas Medical Center, so this presents another opportunity for students to pursue psychology-based research.

 

Learn more about Rice and what it takes to get accepted.

 

3. Princeton University 

Location: Princeton, NJ

Acceptance Rate: 5.5%

Undergrad Enrollment: 5,422

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1450-1600 SAT, 32-36 ACT

 

Princeton University is currently the most highly ranked school in the country. Located in the quiet town of Princeton, New Jersey, the school has a vibrant culture of stellar academics, highly-ranked sports, and copious clubs. 

 

Princeton stresses that its Department of Psychology is perfect for students with varied interests. The curriculum is hands-on, as the concentration (major) requires that students participate in independent work during their junior and senior year. Students have the opportunity to participate in cutting-edge research in areas like language development and the social impact of biases. Psychology concentrators can also choose to earn certificates in Neuroscience, Cognitive Science, Applications of Computing, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Language and Culture, and Linguistics, for a more interdisciplinary approach to their education. 

 

Learn more about Princeton and what it takes to get accepted.

 

4. Stanford University 

Location: Stanford, CA

Acceptance Rate: 4.4%

Undergrad Enrollment: 6,996

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1420-1570 SAT, 31-35 ACT

 

Stanford University is a renowned private institution in a suburban area of northern California. The school prides itself on its rich history, innovative academic environment, and cutting-edge future plans.

 

Home to the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, Stanford’s Department of Psychology emphasizes an applied approach to research. In addition to the regular course requirements, the school offers Pathways, which are resources that provide students with a list of available pathways to take in a particular subject area. For example, there is a Mind, Culture, and Society Pathway, and a Health Psychology Pathway, allowing students to cater their learning accordingly.

 

Learn more about Stanford and what it takes to get accepted.

 

5. Harvard University 

Location: Cambridge, MA

Acceptance Rate: 4.5%

Undergrad Enrollment: 6,755

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1460-1580 SAT, 33-35 ACT

 

Harvard is accredited worldwide as one of the most academically advanced and selective colleges. Composed of over 420.4 million items, the school’s library system is the largest academic library in the world. 

 

Harvard’s Psychology department boasts renowned past faculty, like B. F. Skinner, a founding father of behavioral psychology. The school offers three different paths within the Psychology concentration: The General Track, The Life Sciences Track, and The Cognitive Science Track. At Harvard, psychology concentrators (majors) are not allowed to pursue joint concentrations, so this is important to keep in mind if having a double major is one of your goals. 

 

Learn more about Harvard and what it takes to get accepted.

 

There are many more schools that are great for psychology majors. See the complete list of best colleges for psychology.

 

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Priya Desai
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Priya has been working at CollegeVine for two years in various capacities, including mentoring students, editing hundreds of essays, and creating blog content. She has also interned in healthcare consulting. She is extremely grateful for all the help she received as an applicant and wants to pay it forward by demystifying the admissions process for others.