New Numbers on Undergraduate Psychology Majors Post-College

How Do Former Psychology Majors Perform in the Marketplace?

Posted Feb 28, 2016

Psychology continues to be a popular college major. Is psychology a solid, economically satisfying major? Many psychology majors and their parents wonder what happens after graduation. What salaries do psychology majors earn? Do they all go eventually go to graduate school?

As a psychology professor and former psychology major myself, I am glad to have access to some recent employment data to share with my students. I learned about some recent employment and salary trends for psychology majors in the February 2016 issue of the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology.

In 2012 – 2013, for example, 1.84 million bachelor’s degrees were awarded to students. Of those, 6.2 percent of the degrees (or 114,080) went to psychology majors. Based on those numbers, the psychology major is the fourth most popular college major after business, health-related majors, and social science and history.

Just under 27 percent of recent psychology graduates end up working in jobs they describe as being “closely related” to the major. Another 35 percent of respondents indicated that the jobs they took were “somewhat related” to their psychology major and just above 38 percent noted that their work was “not related” to psychology. So, some graduates continue to engage in psychology related work but by no means do all.

What about grad school? Many former psychology majors—about 45 percent of them end up pursuing a graduate degree (some in psychology, but by no means all).  That is a much higher percentage than is typical for college graduates, of which about 35 percent eventually earn a graduate degree.

Do graduate degrees pay in the end? Apparently, yes. Those psychology majors who earn a graduate degree in some area receive about 33 percent more in their salaries than do psychology majors who only have a bachelor’s degree.

What do the salaries of former, bachelor’s level psychology majors look like? According to the Monitor on Psychology, the median annual salary for former psychology majors whose ages are 25 to 59 is $49,000. That salary is less than the median for people with bachelor’s degrees in any academic field, which is $61,000 (remember, this number reflects all areas of study—from engineering and finance to philosophy and art).

Of course, some subfields of psychology pay better than others. Students whose training was in industrial/organizational psychology earn around $66,000 a year. Those with degrees in social psychology, by comparison, make an average of about $51,000 a year.

As is always the case, where you live affects salary levels, as does the cost of living, and so on. Still, these new data should help some psychology majors (and would-be psychology majors) think about whether they are making the right choice for their futures. In addition, students may not see attending graduate school in their future, yet just under half of all former psychology majors do, in fact, pursue and receive some sort of graduate degree.

So, psychology majors are in fact alive and well and enjoying economically viable times after their undergraduate years. Although they may not have the highest salaries, it is clear that the skills and liberal education they acquired during their college years is nonetheless have some positive effects on how they fare in the marketplace of careers

If you are a psychology major, you might want to share these findings with your parents so they will understand that your academic choice is a reasonable one. If you are a parent of a psychology major, you can breath a sigh of relief and perhaps share these results with your son or daughter.