Jonathan Golding, Ph.D. and Anne Lippert, PhD

Careers in Psych

How Lucrative Is a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology?

Some common entry level jobs for psychology majors have surprising salaries

Posted May 04, 2016

Eirik Solheim/Flickr
Dr. Daniel Kahneman
Source: Eirik Solheim/Flickr

While some still adhere to the idea that a psychology degree is a road to financial struggle, this is far from true. In fact, Dr. Daniel Kahneman, winner of the 2002 nobel prize in economics argues psychology is an undervalued aspect of a huge determinant of business success- decision making. Kahneman asserts that “most people, normally feel that they already know all the psychology and all the sociology they are likely to need for their decisions. I don't think they are right, but that's the way it is.”1  

Indeed, Kahneman’s and colleagues work on cognitive bias demonstrated several replicable ways in which our decisions and judgments are not as rational as we may think they are. Perhaps it is not a coincidence then, that as society becomes more aware of its ignorance in decision making, understanding the psychology behind our choices is becoming more valuable. In fact, from medicine to investor trading to social work to computer science, there is no field that does not depend upon human thought and decision-making. This is perhaps the reason that employers of all sectors want and need the strong skills a psychology degree provides for studying human behavior.

Thus, if you are hoping to increase your appeal to a wide range of employers, a psychology degree may be right for you. We find evidence of a psychology degree's broad appeal in a 2010 National Science Foundation survey of recent college graduates. This survey measured the relatedness of an individual’s college degree to the field of his/her current job, and found 81% of all psychology majors are employed in a field different than their major. In fact, a larger percentage of psychology majors take jobs in fields outside their major compared to those with degrees in the biological sciences (51%), computer sciences (34%), mathematical and statistical sciences (75%), physical sciences (34%), engineering sciences (20%), and health sciences (13%).  According to The College Majors Handbook2, some of the most popular fields of employment that those with only a bachelor's degree in psychology go into include:

Management and Administration positions
Advertising, Marketing, and Promotions
Social work
Training and Development

So what does a job in each of these employment areas look like? And how lucrative are these jobs? Let’s take a look.

Government of Alberta/Flickr
Source: Government of Alberta/Flickr

Management and Administration

The primary responsibilities of those who become top level administrators or managers involve coordinating and directing aspects of an organization. For example, human resources managers are involved in the administrative functions of an organization. They oversee the recruiting, interviewing, and hiring of new staff; consult with top executives on company plans; and act as a go between an organization’s management and its employees. A health care administrator, on the other hand, might manage an entire hospital or medical practice, and may be in charge of specific tasks, such as making sure the business conforms to changes in healthcare laws, regulations, and technology.

PAY AND OUTLOOK: The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that those in administrative/management positions make an annual median salary of $81,080, and have job growth prospects of 12% between 2012 and 2022.

Advertising, Marketing, and Promotions

People in these fields develop strategies for generate interest in a product. They work as part of a team to plan advertising and promotional campaigns using a variety of media outlets (e.g., tv, radio, billboards, internet). The job may also include initiating and analyzing market research that tries to understand the consumer behavior for a product. The product may be retail (e.g., clothing, cars, food) or, in the case of public relations, the product is a company or person, and the goal is to develop and present a favorable public image for that company/person.

PAY AND OUTLOOK: The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the average yearly income for an Advertising Manager at $88,000, a Marketing Specialist at $56,000, and a Marketing Research Analyst at $60,000. lists the average yearly income for a Promotions Assistant at $78,000. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment for advertising and promotions managers will grow 5 percent from 2014 to 2024, and employment of marketing managers will grow 9 percent from 2014 to 2024.

Source: skeeze/pixabay

Social Work

Social workers help people solve and cope with issues that arise in their lives. Clinical social workers also diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues, but this type of work requires graduate training.  Some of the main tasks of social workers may include community development, child protection and welfare, and case management (linking clients with agencies and programs that will meet their psychosocial needs). In addition, advocacy is an important aspect of social work. Social workers advocate or raise awareness for their clients and the social work profession from the local to the national level.

PAY AND OUTLOOK: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the median annual wage for  social workers was $45,900 in May 2015. Employment of social workers is projected to grow 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations.

Labor Relations

Labor relations specialists act as mediators between employees and the employer. They represent management during the collective-bargaining process when contract negotiation between the employer and employees is taking place. They also represent the company at grievance hearings. These hearings are often required when a worker feels management has not fulfilled its end of an employment contract. People working as training and development managers are responsible for organizing training programs, including creating or selecting course content and materials, and ensuring that the training methods, are appropriate and meaningful for the training needs of the company.

PAY and OUTLOOK: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median annual wage for labor relations specialists was $58,820 in May 2015. Unfortunately, employment of labor relations specialists is projected to decline 8 percent from 2014 to 2024. The number of workers represented by unions has declined, resulting in less demand for the services of labor relations specialists.

Source: aniset/pixabay

Training and Development

An entry level position for psychology majors is that of a training and development specialist. These individuals create, administer, and deliver training programs for businesses and organizations. To do this, they must first assess the needs of an organization, and this often involves administering and analyzing surveys, something a psychology major is well versed in. Once those needs are determined, specialists develop training programs in a format (e.g. online, classroom based, interactive, etc) deemed best for the particular needs of the company. After 5 years of on the job experience, you may be in a better position to become a training and development manager. At this point, you would be in charge of overseeing and managing a team of training and development specialists.

PAY AND OUTLOOK: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, The median annual wage for training and development specialists was $58,210 in May 2015. The median annual wage for training and development managers was $102,640 in May 2015. The employment of both training and development specialists and managers is projected to grow about 7% from 2014-2024, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Of course, the exact pay of the job depends on many factors including location, duties, knowledge, job performance, etc. However, as you can see, it is possible to have a comfortable salary with only an undergraduate psychology degree. If you would like more information about the salaries of different psychology related jobs, click here for a comprehensive list.

We hope you have enjoyed our post and please feel free to comment or discuss this topic below. 

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding, Dr. Lippert and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

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2. Fogg, N., Harrington, T. F., & Harrington, P. (2004). College majors handbook with real career paths and payoffs. Jist Works.