How to Pave Your Way to a Career in Psychology

The Early Years

The road to a career in psychology can be challenging, exciting and highly rewarding. As with most endeavors, early planning is always recommended. If you have the option of starting early, you’ll want to take advantage of any psychology courses that may be available to you at your high school. While not a standard part of the curriculum or elective course offerings at the high school level, there is a growing trend that is leading more and more schools to adopt it. Additionally, many of the life sciences such as chemistry, biology and anatomy are also pivotal in providing a strong foundation for a career in psychology. Courses in Early Childhood Development can also aid in helping you to learn and apply course work in the stages of human development, a prevalent component of foundations in psychology. Part of both the appeal and challenge of a career in psychology is the more you know about many areas of study, the more effective you are likely to be as a psychologist. History, culture, religion and philosophy can all play significant roles in this field and inform your practice.

College-Bound

You’ll want to research different undergraduate programs and ensure they offer psychology as a major and review the requisite curriculum. If you know of a niche within the field that you’d like to specialize in, it is advisable to declare a minor as well. Some common minors that coincide with psychology majors are criminal justice, sociology, anthropology and business administration. Another factor to consider when selecting a school is whether the program offers field internships or co-op programs that will allow you to gain experience and exposure in the field while you’re still in school. An undergraduate degree with relevant experience can help you to stand out and be a more attractive candidate to graduate programs and employers. Working as a Research Assistant during your junior or senior year could be a great way to round out your undergraduate experience and help you to build a network. Assisting in a research study that gets published is a productive way to begin a successful career in psychology.

Graduate School

The decision and timing of graduate school enrollment is contingent upon you and your circumstances at the time. In a field like psychology, however, a graduate degree is required in order to work in almost any capacity within the field; therefore, it is something you will want to consider. Prior to deciding whether it’s best to enroll immediately after completing your undergraduate degree or wait, you may want to consider finances, job market projections, and your field experience. If you completed any experiential education during undergraduate and you are able to afford graduate school then it is recommended that you enroll right away. On the other hand, if you do not have financial access or aide available to you and/or you haven’t had some field experience, it may be a wiser decision to obtain relevant employment first and work to finance your plans while gaining valuable experience. The latter option is important to think about because having real-world experience to apply your graduate learning to will enable to have a more enriched, learning experience.

  • Master’s Level: A master’s degree is not always required to enter into a doctoral program; however, in some instances it can help increase your likelihood of acceptance. Many do skip a master’s and apply directly to doctoral programs from undergraduate programs. If you finished your undergraduate degree in psychology with a superior academic record, received reputable scores on the GRE’s, Psychology GRE’s and/or ACT exams and have practical field experience, you may want to give yourself the opportunity to go right into a Doctoral program if that is your goal. If pursuing a master’s, there are different paths you can take depending on your aspirations. Obtaining your degree will typically require a Master’s level thesis as well as supervised practicum prior to degree award.
    • Masters in Psychology: for research, hospitals, assessments
    • Masters in Social Work: for agency social-services, management, individual therapy, group therapy, substance abuse counseling, guidance counselor
    • Masters in Mental Health Counseling: individual therapy, group therapy, private practice
  • Doctoral Level: A doctorate degree is recommended for anyone who intends to become a licensed psychologist who completes assessments, diagnostics and treatment of patients in a variety of settings. There are two primary degrees with various specialties, that prepare you for this career. In the past, the two were highly distinguishable, however more recently there is less differentiation and more balance, yet each has a lean. Both degrees usually require completion and approval of a dissertation as well as a residency.
    • Ph.D [Doctor of Philosophy]: for research and academia
    • Psy.D [Doctor of Psychology]: for practice

Licensure

In order to be an independent, practicing psychologist In the United States, Licensure is required, however specifications regarding necessary steps towards licensure can vary by state. You can expect that a State Licensing Board will review your education and experience to determine eligibility to sit for the licensing exam. Typically you’ll be required to have completed a doctoral degree in a field related to psychology along with a minimum of two years supervised field experience. The Board will complete a review of the full application and if approved, will grant permission to sit for the licensing exam. Pass the exam and you should have what you need to start a successful career in psychology.