Should You Major in Psychology?

Some Good Questions for Would-Be Psychology Majors

Posted Oct 15, 2017

Should you major in psychology?

A better question might be: Why should you major in psychology? That is, what is it about you as a student that might make you a good fit with the psychology major? Choosing a college major is an important step—and often a binding one. You should know in advance what you are getting into so that you can do your best academically in the major courses.

Ask yourself the following questions as a way to start thinking about psychology:

Are you interested in science and the process of doing science? Psychology is a science. As a field it relies on the scientific method in the lab, the field, and the clinic. If you are not interested in designing and testing hypotheses, the careful collection of data, its analysis, and the presentation of results in order to create and answer further questions, then psychology might not be for you. But if the process of doing scientific work appeals to you, then perhaps psychology is a good choice of a major for you.

Do you like to read challenging material? Like many scientific fields, psychology relies on journal articles as the primary source of new information. Although most such articles follow a formulaic style known as APA Style (in large part so that readers know what to expect where in an article), journal articles can require close reading and careful thought on the part of the reader—they are not easy, breezy reads. If you like to read moderately challenging material, then psychology might be for you.

Are you interested in learning about statistics? Psychology relies on the statistical analysis of data, usually some form of observed behavior that is reduced to numerical form. Psychologists rely on statistics in order to “make sense” of their findings in order to tell a compelling story about what they learned (or did not learn) about behavior. Learning to do data analysis and to read and understanding statistical results is an important ability whether you want to be an experimental psychologist or a counseling psychologist. If you like numbers—or are not afraid of them—then psychology may be a good choice.

Does ambiguity intrigue you—or turn you off? Why people act the way they do can be fascinating—but it’s also the case that sometimes psychologists are not at all certain why people do the things they do (or fail to do other things). Figuring out what makes people tick requires tenacity and the ability to tolerate ambiguity, even uncertainty—the reasons underlying particular human behaviors are not always clear-cut. As a result, many psychologists work for years, even entire careers, trying to make sense out of one topical question or area (for an example, see the excellent, detailed work of social psychologist, Daniel Batson, concerning elucidating altruism).

If you want to become a psychologist, are you ready for four, likely more, years of study past your four undergraduate years of college? Graduate school takes time and effort; it is not for the faint of heart—or mind. In order to be called a “psychologist,” one needs to earn a doctorate, which usually takes a minimum of four years (candidly, it can often be more like 5 or 6 years of study). Are you prepared to double your time pursuing your postsecondary education? If you are—and the above requirements don’t turn you off—then psychology may be for you.

Are you willing to entertain the possibility of being something other than a clinical or a counseling psychologist? Psychology is a broad and deep discipline—clinical psychology and counseling psychology are but two areas within it—there are many, many others. The American Psychological Association currently has special interest groups of psychologists covering more than 50 subfields, many of which are unfamiliar to the average person, including undergraduate students. Instead of committing only to an area you know about, you should explore the other available possibilities. Check out the APA website, which includes a listing of all the current divisions linked to or sponsored by the organization.

Of course, you don’t need to become a psychologist in order to major in psychology. Psychology is an excellent liberal arts major, one that helps students to develop a wide variety of skills that are applicable in a variety of jobs and careers. Still, if you decide to major in psychology, you should be aware of the typical requirements of the major. If you are still not sure, drop by your college or university’s Department of Psychology to see what you can learn about the major—and talk to your friends who may have already chosen psychology to learn what motivated their choice. Alternatively, check out information for undergraduates that can be found on the APA website.  

Good luck.