Psychology means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Often, people’s
perceptions of the field are based on a narrow understanding of the discipline and sometimes, it can be influenced by outdated, stereotypical and even glamorized views of psychology portrayed by the media. Psychology is a fascinating field of study and it draws the interest of many students; if you are one of them and have found yourself wondering, “What can I do with a bachelor’s in psychology?” the answer is: probably more than you think.
Ask any layperson about what psychology means, and they will almost certainly reference the therapeutic role of the psychologist. They may be influenced by their own personal experiences of counseling or by popular media personalities in the field, such as Phillip McGraw, “Dr. Phil,” a television mainstay.
The media is often responsible for portraying psychology in a somewhat confusing light. In the realm of fiction, psychologists are everywhere — from the quirky animations of Comedy Central’s Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, to the smooth-talking radio host, Dr. Frasier Crane, from the hit TV show Frasier. Psychologists also feature heavily in the realms of science fiction and the paranormal, in series like the X-Files (FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder), Ghostbusters (Dr. Peter Venkman), and The X-men (Professor Charles Xavier). And there are no shortages of cartoons and memes featuring hapless souls on the psychologist’s couch.
Things don’t get any clearer in the “real world” of psychology where complex and often colorful psychologists like Sigmund Freud or Benjamin Spock lead the way in name recognition associated with the profession. It is little wonder why sometimes people are confused about what psychology actually is or what you can do with a bachelor’s degree in the subject.
What Is a Psychology Degree?
Dr. Brian Tilley, Associate Professor of Psychology at National University, offers a more nuanced understanding of what psychology is and how it is applied.
“Psychology is the study of humanity,” says Tilley. “How we think, how we act, how we experience feelings. How all three of those influence one another and also influence our relationships with one another. Therapy is just one part of an incredibly expansive field.”
Outside of the therapy room, any business or organization can benefit from a greater understanding of human behavior and relationships. This creates an opportunity for an individual with knowledge of psychology to help an organization connect with customers and clients in a more effective and compelling manner or to build more successful collaborative teams within the organization itself. An online psychology degree from National University can create new opportunities across a wide range of career paths and educational opportunities.
Studying the diverse range of electives available in National University’s online psychology degree is a great starting point to answer the question: What can I do with a bachelor’s in psychology?
With topics including applied sport psychology, criminology, conflict resolution, human communication, marriage, sex and the family, and psychology for managers, it is clear that an online psychology degree can be as varied as the career opportunities that follow it.
Career Options in Psychology
National University’s downloadable career guide, Psychology: A Career that Opens Doors, notes that psychology majors can be found in many different professions within the public, private and non-profit sectors. These include:
- Entry-level counseling in government-funded agencies and hospitals.
- Academic counselors within educational facilities.
- Vocational counseling.
- Career counselors.
- Counselors for at-risk youth.
- Human resources.
- Sales and marketing
- Criminal justice
- Probation/detention officers
- Law enforcement
- Elementary school teachers
- Child care workers
- Retail management
- Community managers
- Hospice workers
- Social services caseworkers
The salary and benefits comparison website PayScale.com highlights the diversity of the career options in psychology by ranking two very different organizations as top employers in the field. The online retailer and tech giant, Amazon.com, sits very neatly beside the nonprofit organization Catholic Charities. These are not two names you would normally associate with each other — but they are both big employers of people with bachelor’s degrees in psychology. PayScale.com currently reports the average salary of employees with a bachelor’s degree in psychology at $57,000 per year.
The common thread running through all these career paths is an interest in human behavior and a desire to connect with others on a deeper, more personal level. This is something that Tilley believes unifies all psychology majors.
“As students of psychology, we ask questions like, ‘Why do we react the way that we react in certain situations?’ or ‘Why does this matter more to us than other things matter to us?’” says Tilley. “We examine all those questions about the mind that we have been asking for thousands of years. Essentially, psychology is that scientific pursuit of those, often initially, incredibly vague philosophical questions.”
Tilley explains that developing this interest in human behavior and building rapport with people is as equally important in the business environment as it is in a therapeutic role.
“Many students are interested in human behavior and learning more about it but applying it in other settings outside of the therapy office. Maybe they don’t want to be licensed — they just want to continue working in behavioral health for example, or they want to rise up the career ladder,” says Tilley.
Studying psychology gives you exposure to the rigors of the scientific method — doing careful, thorough research, organizing and analyzing data logically, and explaining results clearly to a variety of audiences — all skills that are valuable in the workplace, wherever that might be.
“Successful business managers want to learn a better way of relating with people and being able to support their employees or whoever they interact with,” says Tilley.
That’s why you are as likely to meet a psychology graduate in an advertising agency, on a sales team, in a law office or in any other job that benefits from a better understanding of human beings, as you are in a therapy office.
A Step Up the Career Ladder
For many National University students, a bachelor’s degree in psychology represents a desire to climb the career ladder. They might have entered the workplace at the ground level with minimal qualifications and limited opportunities to progress. Achieving their bachelor’s degree is the first step towards improving their chances of promotion and demonstrating that they have the transferable skills that employers require for more senior positions, such as communication, critical thinking, analyzing, independent learning, and the ability to work in teams and collaborate.
One area where National University has seen particular success in helping graduates create new career opportunities for themselves in the field of psychology is in the transition from military service into civilian roles.
National University’s close ties to the military (the university was founded by veterans and offers a number of specialist resources to help veterans and service personnel access education, benefits and additional support), make it a popular choice for veterans transitioning back into civilian life. The flexible nature of the online programs, also makes National’s programs accessible to military personnel in active service — creating better employment opportunities for them following their military careers.
The success of its military students is just one aspect of National University’s reach and appeal that Tilley is exceptionally proud of.
“I talk to our military students in the graduate psychology programs that I teach and I’m just blown away by how they are able to do it,” says Tilley. “I was barely able to do it while I had nothing on my plate as a 23- or 24-year-old, I don’t know how they do it with the security of the nation hanging in the balance.”
It is no surprise that many military students are drawn to psychology following their own personal experiences of therapy following a traumatic experience while on deployment. As therapy becomes increasingly recognized as a primary source of healthcare in the military, it could be argued that therapy saves lives when soldiers return home in the same way that body armor saves lives on the battlefield.
But this path isn’t unique to military veterans.
Following a “Calling” to Therapy
According to Tilley, students who want to pursue a career in therapy are often drawn to psychology through their own personal experiences.
“Many students may come from family backgrounds where maybe there was a divorce that was particularly traumatic or something that happened like a death in the family where the student wound up getting some therapy,” says Tilley.
“Maybe it was just in their own marriage — we’ve had students come in and say, ‘I went to a marriage and family therapist and I realized I want to be in the other chair, I want to be the person doing this therapy, this is really appealing to me.’”
According to Tilley, beyond personal experience, there is usually a “calling” to the career.
“Most students come in with this idea that not only have they had a positive experience with therapy, but people keep telling them ‘You’re so good with people, you understand, and you really listen, and you seem like you care,’ and the message sinks in at some point,” says Tilley.
This moment of enlightenment can happen at any time.
“They suddenly start asking themselves “Why am I doing whatever job I’m doing right now?’” says Tilley. “‘I should be doing something that I feel good at, that I feel confident in, that everybody seems to think would be an excellent job for me.’”
These personal explorations often lead to career choices in psychology. “I tell students who tell me this that you’re not alone, you’re one of those special people that everybody can lean on and talk to. I think they like to hear that because they know they are in a room full of people who are their compadres. They are with people who really get them.”
For those people, a bachelor’s degree in psychology could be the start of a long journey towards a rewarding career as a licensed therapist — which will also require the successful competition of master’s degree including a ten-month practicum placement under the mentorship of an experienced and licensed therapist.
Becoming a licensed therapist isn’t easy, but for those with the passion and the dedication to complete the process, the rewards can be high.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage earned by licensed psychologists nationally is $77,030 per year, with the top ten percent of earners in the industry taking home more than $124,520 per year. In California, which ranks higher than any other state in terms of the number of employed in the discipline, the earning potential is even higher with licensed psychologists currently earn a median wage of $109,600.
Job opportunities in the therapist’s office are also on the rise with a 14 percent increase in demand over the next decade.
Outside of the world of therapy, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, graduates with an online psychology degree and working in a field like career counseling could expect to earn $55,410 per year nationally ($68,000 in California), while a senior manager in human resources can demand a median wage of $110,120 per year nationally ($139,860 in California) .
Regardless of your career aspirations, possessing a degree can add value to future opportunities. This can clearly be seen in Bureau of Labor Statistics data which states that the median weekly earnings of someone with a bachelor’s degree are $1,173 compared to $712 for those with just a high school diploma. Unemployment rates are also dramatically reduced for college graduates with 2.5 percent currently out of work compared to 4.6 percent with no degree.
The growth in the value of a psychology degree can be attributed to changing attitudes towards the role of psychology in a healthy population. According to Tilley, this is particularly apparent in areas such as emergency and traumatic level care — with a particular focus on caring for military personnel and veterans following traumatic events.
Today, there is also a better understanding of the important role that psychology can play in our increasingly complex world.
Changing Attitudes to Psychology
Thanks, in part, to its high media profile, psychology is front and center of a growing acceptance of the importance of good mental health. This is sometimes wrapped up in the burgeoning “wellness” industry where words like “mindfulness” have joined the zeitgeist. Tilley likes to keep an open mind about these latest trends.
“I would say it is a mixed bag, but there is some pseudoscience out there,” says Tilley. “There is a difference between somebody who is a life coach and doesn’t really have a whole lot of experience with it and somebody who is really scientific about it and understands the theoretical pinnings of something like mindfulness. That said — just the idea that people are taking the time to slow down and pay attention to where they are in a moment, to use whatever tiny break that they might get in the day is to be welcomed.”
For Tilley, just the fact that people are paying more attention to their own mental health and well-being is a good thing. “I just like the idea that there is a movement out there that’s encouraging people to prize those moments and use them as a form of healing rather than allowing them to be taken up with more worrying, more anxiety, more focus on work or to keep the gears turning in a destructive way.”
Tilley is also happy to acknowledge that trends like “mindfulness” can attract students to the more scientific discipline of psychology.
“The idea that people are aware of a term like mindfulness and how important wellness can be, that’s a great positive,” says Tilley. “The longer it’s around, and the more established the good research becomes, the cream is going to rise to the top, and people will get better at it. It’s just been a real positive I think and I see that in our students when they apply.”
A Flexible Route to a Solid Education
The flexible nature of National University’s online degree programs, which enable students to commit to periods of study around their existing work and personal commitments, creates opportunities for students who might not otherwise be able to fit education into their already busy lives.
Empowering students to access advanced education regardless of their situation or location is something that Tilley is proud of.
“I’m proud of being able to fulfill the mission of the university,” says Tilley. “From the very beginning, when I applied to teach here at National, I think what appealed to me was the idea that you’re giving people a genuine opportunity to change their lives.”
“I always call National the ‘University of Second Chances,’” says Tilley. “No matter what hurdle you’ve had to overcome in your life or for whatever reason you didn’t complete your education, we are here for you.”
Tilly explains there are many reasons why students are unable to complete their education the first time around.
“Maybe you were raising a child and you couldn’t go to school,” says Tilley. “Maybe no one in your family had ever gone to a university, and the assumption was that you’d just do the same job that your parents did or you’d just find some job somewhere to find a way to put food on the table. Whatever the reason, a lot of our students have been away for a while from academia. They get a second chance to come back and prove that not only are they able to succeed in a university and get a degree, but also to have that incredible sense of accomplishment.”
A Fast-Paced, Life-Changing Opportunity
National University’s degree programs help students who do not have the luxury of excess time on their hands to gain the qualifications they need to move on in life.
“These students are here because the program moves very quickly and they love that,” says Tilley. “They want to get out in the world and start working right away, rather than completing a thesis that could take five, six, or seven years. I mean, I was in graduate school with people who had been there 10 years, and it was no big deal to them — but that’s not how it is here.”
A bachelor’s degree from National University in psychology can act as a launching pad to an entirely new career. With classes starting every month, a four-week timeline, and continuous availability throughout the year, once a student has decided to enroll in a program at National they soon find themselves immersed in the subject. This unique educational delivery model typically enables students to graduate in a much shorter timeframe than they would at a traditional school — meaning they can move on with their lives at a pace that suits their unique needs.
Start Your Journey in Psychology Today
To learn more about where a bachelor’s degree in psychology can take you, please visit our program page and download our guide, Psychology: A Degree that Opens Doors.