Personal Finance
Working Your Degree
December 8, 2000: 9:14 a.m. ET

Psychology grads often work in marketing, social work and labor relations
Shelly K. Schwartz
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Psychology degrees have long been viewed as a proving ground of sorts for higher education. It's no wonder.

With more than 40 percent of undergraduates in the field eventually going on to law school, business school or some other professional program, the social sciences major ranks among the highest in post-graduate academic attainment.

But what about job prospects for those with only a bachelor's degree?

At least one college professor insists that opportunities in both the public and private sector abound. And, he says, the perception that a psychology degree is best used as an educational stepping stone is giving college students the wrong idea.

"A lot of people think that in order to do anything with a degree in psychology you must get a Ph.D and become a psychologist," said Charles Brewer, a psychology professor at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. "Most parents, even if they are professionals in their own right, don't understand what opportunities are open to psych majors."

Brewer notes the vast majority of his former students have found successful careers "in almost anything you can name" and he stressed the greatest advantage of a psychology degree is its "flexibility and adaptability."

Under the microscope

Psychologists, by definition, study the human mind and human behavior.

In its latest Occupational Outlook survey, the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that research psychologists, investigate the physical, cognitive, emotional, or social graphicaspects of human behavior. Psychologists in applied fields provide mental health care in hospitals, clinics, schools, or private settings.

The bureau notes that clinical psychologists usually work in counseling centers, independent or group practices, hospitals, or clinics. They often interview patients and give diagnostic tests. And, it states, they may provide individual, family, or group psychotherapy, and design and implement behavior modification programs.

Counseling psychologists, by contrast, use various techniques, including interviewing and testing, to advise people on how to deal with problems of everyday living, the bureau states. Many work in university counseling centers, hospitals, and individual or group practices.

Visit CNNfn's Career page every Friday to read "Working your Degree," a new column that highlights job opportunities for a different college major each week. Click here for previous profiles on professions including: philosophy, political science, engineering, economics, computer science, physical therapy, history and teaching professions.

Branching out

Most colleges and universities offer a bachelor's degree in psychology. Those that offer a Bachelor's of Science (BS) program tend to emphasize math and laboratory science courses, while schools with a Bachelor's of Arts (BA) program focus more on counseling and learning patterns.

Students in the major who want to actually become a licensed psychologist should plan to go on for their Ph.D. The same goes for those interested in teaching on a collegiate level and independent research, the BLS states, though junior-level research positions are sometimes open to those with a master's degree.

The prospects for remaining in the field armed only with an undergraduate degree, however, are less than encouraging.

"Very few job opportunities directly related to psychology will exist for bachelor's degree holders," the bureau states. "Some may find jobs as assistants in rehabilitation centers, or in other jobs involving data collection and analysis. Those who meet state certification requirements may become high school psychology teachers."

Blazing a new trail

But don't despair. Most bachelor's degree-holders branch out into other occupations anyway.

According to The College Majors Handbook, published by JIST Works, Inc., fewer than 25 percent of undergraduate-level psychology majors work in jobs that are closely related to their field of study.

Many work, for example, work in fields that are only marginally related to psychology, including marketing research, social work, labor relations or management and productivity improvement.

"They may work as research or administrative assistants or become sales or management trainees in business," the BLS states.

Fully 50 percent of psychology graduates work for businesses and for-profit corporations, the Handbook notes. Another 16 percent work for the government, 14 percent work for educational institutions and 13 percent are self-employed. The remaining 9 percent work in the private, nonprofit sector including charitable organizations.

"A psychology degree can work in any type of job where you are working with people," said Kambi Meier, 26, a 1998 graduate of Arizona State University. "What intrigued me about psychology is that it was the study of human behavior and organizational behavior and that's what it's all about."

Meier, who now works as a communications specialist for a leading financial services firm, said she expects to return for a higher degree in something unrelated to psychology someday in the future. But she stressed her job opportunities don't depend on it.

"Psychology absolutely helped me in understanding people and how they interact," she said. "It's come into play with what I do now."

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    Psychology graduates with only a bachelor's degree earn roughly $44,600 a year, which is 9 percent lower than the average for all college grads.
Looking ahead

The job market for psychologists is expected to grow 10 percent to 20 percent through 2008, about as fast as the national average for all occupations, according to government data.

But the market for social workers, a common employment outlet for psychology majors, is expected to grow much faster at 36 percent or more during the same time period. Demand in the field is largely being driven by the aging population, which requires more mental and physical assistance. (Note: Higher degrees in social work, as well, are increasingly the norm.)

Salaries for those trained in psychology vary dramatically depending on the job title, geographic location and level of education.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average starting salary for psychologists with a bachelor's degree was about $20,600 in 1999; those with superior academic records could begin at $25,500.

Psychologists with a master's degree and one year of experience, it notes, could start at $31,200. Those with a Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree and one year of internship could start at $37,800, and some individuals with experience could start at $45,200.

Moving beyond starting salaries, however, the Handbook reports that psych graduates with only a bachelor's degree earn roughly $44,600 a year, a level that is 9 percent lower than the average for all college grads.

Those who work in management and senior-level administrative positions earn the most, at $58,000 per year, followed by those employed under the broad category of insurance, securities, real estate and business services who earn an average of $56,000. Social workers and administrative record clerks earn the least at close to $30,000 per year.

"I'd say you can do anything you want to do with a psychology degree," Brewer said. "We do alumni surveys of our undergraduates and I can tell you that there are firemen, marketing directors, ministers, teachers, pilots and business executives."

Psych majors, he added, are especially well positioned in the job market because they are trained to think critically and creatively and are skilled in communications.

"That's why our students are so versatile," Brewer said. "Those are the same skills that you'll need as a business executive, architect, librarian or social worker. There are not many jobs that require skills that psychology majors don't have." graphic


American Psychological Association

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