Graduates with a bachelor’s degree in psychology are all facing the same challenging question: What’s next? For many, the answer is advanced education. While there are several job opportunities that only require a bachelor’s degree, most require at least a graduate degree.
This shouldn’t be a surprise to prospective psychology professionals, whose field has seen a major spike in master’s degree enrollment numbers. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, graduate enrollment has increased by 4.6 percent in spring, 2021. In fact, psychology showed the largest enrollment growth at four-year colleges rounding out to about 4.8 percent.
While this might be frustrating for recent bachelor’s-level graduates, it also demonstrates the value of a master’s degree in psychology. It offers many opportunities as well as needed guidance when deciding what field of psychology you want to pursue.
Psychology Career Pathways
There are many pathways for those interested in pursuing a career in psychology. To make such an important decision, however, you’ll need to understand the different types of careers that are available to you.
Non Client-Facing Psychology Positions
While many people only think of therapists and psychologists, there are a myriad of opportunities available to psychology majors who aren’t interested in client-facing positions. Some fields that aren’t human-service oriented include developmental, experimental, and forensic psychology. Some positions can include those in research or even academia.
However, that doesn’t mean that these roles don’t require some form of communication. In any psychology-related career, you can expect to connect with coworkers, fellow faculty members, research colleagues, or students. The key difference is that you aren’t typically communicating with clients or patients in a therapeutic capacity.
Client-Facing Psychology Positions
Client-facing roles are more commonly associated with psychology. Some job titles that are human-service oriented include school psychologists, clinical psychologists, and counseling psychologists. Since these roles focus on studying and helping people with cognitive, emotional, and social difficulties, frequent patient contact is essential for effective treatment.
Non-Traditional Psychology Positions
There are several career paths available to psychology majors that aren’t necessarily directly related to psychology. Social work is a great example of this. While social workers share overlapping responsibilities of contributing emotional support and providing solutions to their clients’ social, behavioral, and health problems, it isn’t necessarily categorized as a career in psychology. Additional examples include human resources, rehabilitation, and counseling positions.
Top Job Titles in Psychology
While there are an abundance of opportunities for those pursuing a career in psychology, your degree plays a major role in what positions you’re qualified for. Unlike other fields, a master’s degree alone doesn’t typically get you the highest paying jobs, but it does provide more opportunities to grow, and acts as a stepping stone to additional education when needed.
The top job titles held by graduates of an MS degree program in psychology include:
- Program managers
- Project managers
- School psychologists
- Adjunct faculty members
- Licensed clinical social workers
- Adjunct instructors
- Medical social workers
- Mental health professionals
- Mental health therapists
- Academic advisors
Several job titles, including psychologists and psychiatrists, are excluded from this list because of the additional education required. For example, a psychologist needs a PhD or PsyD, while a psychiatrist must earn a doctor of medicine (MD) degree.
However, school psychologists are the exception to this rule. In order to become a school psychologist, you need to earn a Master of Science (MS) and a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study (CAGS) in School Psychology. The graduate certificate is an additional 30 credit hours that must be obtained from a National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) accredited program.
Choosing the Right Career Path
Choosing the right career path is essential. Whatever path you choose determines whether or not you need to further your education, what professional licenses you need to obtain, and what additional requirements you need to fulfill. Here are a few things you should consider when choosing which career is right for you.
1. Evaluate your career goals.
Knowing you want to work in psychology often isn’t enough insight into your career aspirations. Psychology offers a broad range of opportunities that hold different educational and licensure requirements, so it’s important to know what your goals are.
For example, if you want a career that allows you to enter the field as quickly as possible, school psychology is a great option since you can practice with a graduate degree, along with a professional license. This quick entry into a career as a psychologist is pretty significant when looking at the educational requirements for most psychologist positions.
2. Determine who you want to work with.
As with any industry, it’s important to consider what population you’d prefer to work with. For prospective psychologists who love working with children, for example, school psychology is an excellent choice. Individuals interested in working with an academic team might enjoy research and collegiate teaching. No one is an island, so it’s important to choose a career path that surrounds you with people you’re interested in working with, as well as the people you want to help.
3. Figure out how much you want to make.
How much money do you hope to make with a degree in psychology? Since there are many different career paths, there are a lot of factors to consider. Looking at median wages for psychologists is a great indicator of possible salaries available to you, but factors like educational background, industry, area of specialization, and job function play a major role in your earning potential in psychology.
If you’re looking for a position that offers a high salary, the following career paths are excellent options, but it’s important to keep in mind that most require advanced education, like a PhD or PsyD.
- Psychiatrist: $100.59 hourly
- Industrial-organizational psychologists: $53.15 hourly
- Psychologists: $50.40 hourly
- Postsecondary teachers: $42.08 hourly
- Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists: $41.18 hourly
- Educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisors: $33.53 hourly
- Healthcare social workers: $28.50 hourly
- Marriage and family therapists: $24.54 hourly
While most of these roles require a doctoral degree, a master’s in psychology brings you one step closer to these jobs and high salaries.
4. Develop necessary skills.
Earning a master’s degree in any specialization of psychology is impressive, but it isn’t the only thing employers are looking for on your resume. Looking at your career options, try to familiarize yourself with the key skills required for the position and the industry as a whole. Here’s a look at some of the top psychology skills that are often required by employers.
While many of these aren’t applicable to all psychology roles, most employers look for candidates with a working knowledge of:
- Social work
- Mental health
- Behavioral health
- Special education
Experience is important when it comes to working with patients, so it’s essential to have some background in:
- Treatment planning
- Human services
- Case management
- Crisis intervention
5. Obtain job qualifications.
If you hope to become a licensed psychologist or psychology professional, you need to make sure you know the required job qualifications. Here are some of the most common qualifications that graduates of an MS psychology degree have:
- Licensed professional counselor (LPC)
- Licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT)
- Licensed clinical social worker (LCSW)
- Security clearance
- National certified counselor
- Master of business administration (MBA)
- Senior professional in human resources
- Professional in human resources
- Project management professional certification
- Certified nursing assistant
Many of these supplemental qualifications are additional licenses and certifications. Make sure you have the time and resources to obtain these qualifications before pursuing a career that requires them.
Is a Master’s Degree Enough?
As a psychology major, it’s hard to feel as though your master’s degree is enough. Many of the higher salary, higher status positions require a doctoral degree and internship experience. But, if you’re driven more by a passion to help others rather than earning potential, there’s nothing to worry about.
“That’s where the decision-making point is,” says Amy Briesch, Associate Professor and Director of the School Psychology at Northeastern University’s Bouve College of Health Sciences. “If you’re someone who’s interested in providing some sort of mental health services to others, then you’re going to need a master’s degree to do that.” But, “if you want to be able to function independently, you need to have at least that master’s.”
Your future is even brighter if you decide to pursue a master’s in school psychology. Programs such as Northeastern’s MS/CAGS in School Psychology equip students with everything they need to move into the field immediately following graduation. Want to learn more about school psychology? Check out our career guide to see if it’s the right career for you.