What Can You Do With a Psychology Degree?

Written by Coursera • Updated on Mar 30, 2021

This versatile degree opens up opportunities in numerous career fields.

A male college student sits on steps and looks at his tablet. His backpack sits next to him.

A bachelor’s degree in psychology teaches the fundamentals of human behavior and mental processes—knowledge that can help qualify you for a wide variety of jobs. Earning an advanced degree in psychology is a step toward working as a licensed psychologist or therapist.

What can you do with a bachelor’s in psychology?

Psychology ranks among the most popular undergraduate majors in the US [1]. Since the Bachelor of Psychology serves as a generalist degree (it doesn’t specifically qualify you for a given job), it’s a good choice if you’d like to explore your interests while keeping your career options open. While broadly applicable, the knowledge and skills you develop as a psychology major may be particularly useful in these industries.

Human resources

Human resource (HR) professionals oversee much of the employee lifecycle. In this role, you’ll be tasked with making hiring and firing decisions, managing disputes, and promoting employee welfare. An understanding of how people think can boost your effectiveness across all these areas.

How to get started in HR: Most entry-level HR positions require a bachelor’s degree. Supplement your psychology degree coursework by taking classes in business, management, and accounting. Further boost your resume with a certification from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) or the HR Certification Institute (HRCI).

Experience for yourself whether a career in HR might fit your interests by taking People Analytics from the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania, one of the top-rated business schools in the world.

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Marketing and advertising

Selling a product or service often means tapping into the deep desires of the target customer base. The science of persuasion, part of the greater study of social psychology, plays a significant role in effective advertisements and marketing campaigns.

How to get started in marketing and advertising: Many companies prefer at least a bachelor’s degree for roles in marketing and advertising. While your psychology coursework can help you evaluate consumer behavior, consider taking classes in market research, sales, or communications as well. Entry-level jobs in sales and public relations can serve as a stepping stone to a career in this field.

See for yourself how psychology and marketing overlap in An Introduction to Consumer Neuroscience & Neuromarketing from Copenhagen Business School.

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User experience (UX) design

As a UX designer, you can use your knowledge of how people think to help create solutions to common, everyday problems. UX focuses on how people interact with products and systems. By analyzing people’s needs and frustrations, you can design solutions that make products (including apps and websites) easier to use.

How to get started in UX design: You’ll find multiple paths to a career in UX design (and a psychology degree is a good start). If you’re interested in this emerging field, take some courses in human factor psychology, design, and research methodology. Consider an internship while you’re in school to begin building a portfolio of work.

Get a better sense of what’s involved in UX design through the Google UX Design Professional Certificate on Coursera.

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Criminal justice

Many aspects of criminal justice deal with understanding human behavior, from why criminals commit crimes to how these crimes impact victims. A career in law enforcement and criminal justice might take the form of case management, victim advocacy, or working as a parole or probation officer. 

How to get started in criminal justice: Most roles in law enforcement require completion of a state or federal training program and certification test. If you’re considering a career in criminal justice, prepare with courses on criminal psychology, addiction, abnormal behavior, and behavioral statistics.

Counseling

Counselors help people suffering from addiction and other behavioral disorders by offering treatment and advice. You might work in a community health center, juvenile detention facility, employee assistance program, or detox center, depending on your specialty.

How to get started in counseling: Requirements vary by state, but it’s possible to get started as a substance abuse or behavioral health counselor with a bachelor’s degree. Some states require certification and licensure. Check with your state’s regulating board for specific educational requirements.  

Social services

Knowledge of human behavior, motivations, interviewing, and data analysis—skills common in psychology degree programs—translate well into the field of social work. Help people cope with the struggles of their everyday lives in a role as a case manager, social services assistant, or child welfare specialist. 

How to get started in social work: While a bachelor’s degree in social work is the most common requirement for entry-level administrative roles, many employers also consider applicants with a psychology or sociology degree. If you decide you want to further your career in social work, consider going to graduate school for social work (a requirement for licensure as a social worker).

The Social Context of Mental Health and Illness course from the University of Toronto explores how social factors impact mental health.

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Education

Aside from teaching, educators are often tasked with encouraging and empathizing with students, handling misbehavior, and intervening in cases of mental health issues. A background in psychology can help day-to-day in the classroom from pre-K to high school.

How to get started in education: Teachers at every grade level typically need at least a bachelor’s degree. If you’d like to teach in a public school, you’ll need to get licensed or certified from your state as well. Complement your psychology coursework by enrolling in a teacher preparation program. 

Learn how positive psychology impacts the classroom environment with the Teaching Character and Creating Positive Classrooms course from the Relay Graduate School of Education.

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Graduate psychology degree jobs: Five careers in psychology

Psychology graduates often go on to earn a higher-level psychology degree as the first step toward becoming a professional psychologist. In most states, you’ll have to get licensed to call yourself a psychologist. Licensure requirements generally include a master’s or doctoral degree in psychology. As you pursue a higher degree, consider these fields as possible specialties.

Clinical psychology

Clinical psychologists provide behavioral and mental health care for individuals and families. In this field, you’ll provide clinical or counseling services to help treat a range of emotional, mental, and behavioral disorders. Clinical psychology is one of the largest specialties in the field and what most people think of when they think “psychologist.”

In most states, working as a clinical psychologist requires earning a doctorate in psychology and one or two years of supervised clinical experience, as well as passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology.

Forensic psychology

Forensic psychologists use their knowledge of human behavior in several ways within the criminal justice system. Working in this field might involve developing criminal psychological profiles, providing testimony in court, assessing witness credibility, or determining whether a defendant is mentally competent to stand trial.

Practicing forensic psychologists need a doctoral degree in most states, though a Master of Psychology might qualify you for research-related roles.

Industrial organizational psychology

Industrial organizational psychologists (also known as I/O psychologists) focus on human behavior of employees in the workplace. In this role, you’ll seek to enhance the work environment at companies and organizations by improving hiring practices, internal communications, training programs, and management techniques.

Most I/O psychologists have at least a master’s degree in psychology. Earning your PhD can help you gain a competitive edge when seeking higher-paying positions.

Sports & exercise psychology

Sports psychologists use their knowledge of human behavior to assist athletes in achieving maximum performance and treat mental health issues specific to the sports industry. You might work with a variety of athletes, from youth and parents in recreational programs to Olympic and pro athletes (and their coaches).

In most cases, you’ll need a doctoral degree in psychology and a license to practice as a sports psychologist. Some graduate programs offer a sports psychology concentration. Alternatively, you can consider a double-major in psychology and exercise science.

Educational psychology

Working as an educational psychologist means studying how we learn and retain knowledge. As a psychologist in this field, you’ll study various approaches to learning and develop approaches to make learning more effective. This might include testing methods, classroom environments, learning disabilities, and behavioral issues that could impede the learning process.

While a Master of Psychology is the minimum requirement for a career in educational psychology, you should consider earning your PhD to boost your opportunities in this research-heavy field.

Psychology degree frequently asked questions (FAQ)

What’s the difference between a PhD and a PsyD in psychology?

A Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) is the highest-level degree you can get for clinical work in psychology. A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in psychology is a more academic-focused terminal degree. It’s a better option for those interested in conducting research or teaching at the university level.

Can I earn a psychology degree online?

As you pursue higher education in psychology, you’ll find online programs for bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in the field. These degrees often have the same curriculum as more traditional on-campus programs but often with greater scheduling flexibility and (often) lower tuition.

How long does it take to get a psychology degree?

A Bachelor of Psychology typically takes four years of full-time study. If you want to become a licensed psychologist, you’ll need a master’s (two to four years) or doctorate degree (four to seven years) as well. Plan for another year or two of supervised professional experience to qualify for a license.

What can you do with an associate’s degree in psychology?

Earning an associate degree in psychology typically takes two years of full-time study at a community college or university. While many learners use an associate’s degree as a step toward completing a bachelor’s, the degree may help qualify you for entry-level positions like:

  • Psychiatric aide

  • Psychiatric technician

  • Administrative assistant

  • Human services assistant

  • Home care aide

  • Childcare assistant

  • Youth counselor

  • Police officer

Get started with Coursera

Experience a university-level psychology course for yourself to see if psychology might be a good fit for you. Learn about happiness in The Science of Well-Being from Yale, study the fundamentals in the Introduction to Psychology from University of Toronto, or practice patient skills in Psychological First Aid from Johns Hopkins University.

If you’re thinking about furthering your education, explore what bachelor’s and master’s degrees you can earn online through Coursera.

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Article sources

1. National Center for Education Statistics. "Most popular majors, https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=37." Accessed March 26, 2021.

Written by Coursera • Updated on Mar 30, 2021

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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