Ten Career Questions for Psychology Majors

Try thinking like a psychologist.

Posted Apr 18, 2010

PsychIf you have read other posts of mine you know about THE QUESTION-- that question you're asked the minute you declare your major: "What are you going to do with that?" And for a psychology major that means most people assume you'll become a psychologist-- coupled with the traditional image of a psychologist as a therapist in private practice. But that is a limiting picture of both the psychology major and the practice of psychology.

And the question, as always, is flawed. It's not "What will you do with the psychology major?" it's "What do you want to do? And how will the knowledge and skills you acquired in your psychology major help you do that?"

The truth is that most psychology majors will not go on to become licensed psychologists. Psychology majors are found in virtually every career field so choosing a psychology major isn't as much of a career decision as it is a decision of what knowledge and skills you'd like to acquire, or what questions you'd like to answer.

As a psychology student you will learn a lot about research, statistics, human and animal behavior, physiology, psychological conditions, how people learn and develop, and so on. All of this knowledge applies to a variety of settings.

So, to get ready for the job market and to help you start thinking more broadly about your major, take a few minutes and ask yourself the following 10 questions (OK that's not exactly accurate-- I've included some follow-up questions) about your psych major:

  1. Why did you initially select psychology? What courses or knowledge first intrigued you?
  2. Once you got into the major, how did your opinion of psychology evolve? Did you find your interests shifting?
  3. What key aspects of psychology most interest you? Is there a field of research that interests or intrigues you? Is there a population you find interesting? What research studies have caught your eye? Why? Do you enjoy reading and research and conducting experiments? Do you like learning about personality traits or why people behave in a particular way? Do you enjoy learning about the interventions or therapeutic techniques that improve people's lives? Do you enjoy the biological or medical aspects of psychology?
  4. What are the top five skills you have acquired through your psychology major? What traits/characteristics did it take to be a good psychology major?
  5. What interesting courses have you taken outside of psychology? Can you connect the dots between what you learned in those courses and what you know about psychology? For instance, how do psychology and business courses intersect? What career fields could use the talents of a psych major with a minor in art?
  6. Where have you excelled in your major? What has come naturally for you? Did you shine in the animal lab? Are you a master statistician? Did you connect with your subjects in human subjects research?
  7. How far do you want to go academically? Are you interested in obtaining a master's or doctoral degree in psychology? Now or in the future? Are you interested in a related advanced degree like counseling or social work or organizational behavior?
  8. What parts of your major have you not enjoyed? Have certain courses or areas of study bored you? What was lacking?
  9. If you could design and teach your own psychology class, what would you teach? Would you combine your knowledge of psychology with another field? Or would you hone in on a specific area like positive psychology or the criminal mindset?
  10. How do you plan to convey the value of your psychology major to future employers (particularly if you're not pursuing a career directly related to psychology)?

So... this is just the start, psych majors.  Time to use your detective skills and start figuring out how you want to use your major.  And check out my post on Branding Your Psychology Major to make the most of your major in the job search.

Check out my book, "You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path From Chaos to Career" which contains examples of psychology majors in the workplace.

Updated ©2012 Katharine Brooks. All rights reserved. Find me on Facebook and Twitter.

Picture credit