What is a Psychology Degree?

Do you ever wonder why people feel guilt, anger, or happiness? Do you ask yourself how memory works? Or what makes us fall in love?

If so, a degree in psychology might be for you. This field studies the human mind from a biological, social, and individual perspective. It explores how people think, feel, and behave—and why. In this degree, you’ll learn to look at your own thoughts in a new way. You’ll cover everything from group dynamics to mental illness, brain anatomy to intelligence.

Whether your goal is to get a job in psychology or not, a degree in this area will serve you well. During their studies, psychology students learn history, theory, and statistics. They explore the psychology of personality, relationships, memory disorders, and more. They also gain valuable skills in research, communication, critical thinking, and self-reflection. Most importantly, psychology students learn to understand people better, including themselves.

Together, these skills set them up for a bright future in many careers—both in psychology and beyond. It’s no wonder psychology is one of the most popular of all university degrees!

Program Options

You can spend your whole life studying psychology! There are lots of different degrees available in this subject. Each has its benefits, so it’s up to you to find the best fit for your goals.

Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology - Four Year Duration
Usually about four years long, this degree can open many doors. You’ll gain a broad knowledge of the field of psychology, as well as transferrable skills. You can’t become a registered psychologist with only bachelor’s, but it’s a step in that direction.

Master’s Degree in Psychology - Two Year Duration
Master’s students specialize in a sub-field, like forensic, clinical, or family psychology. This training will let you treat patients in many states.

PhD in Psychology or Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) - Four to Six Year Duration
Both of these doctoral degrees allow you to run a psychology practice. A PhD (Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology) is excellent training for a career in research. But it’s also more competitive and takes longer to complete than a PsyD (Doctor of Psychology).

Self Study - Varying Durations
Interested in the subject, but not ready to go to school for it? Pick up a popular psychology book or try an online course. There are lots to choose from, and many are free.

Degrees Similar to Psychology

Can’t choose between psychology, counseling, sociology, and neuroscience? Although these degrees seem similar, they’re actually very different from one another:

Counseling Psychology
Counseling psychology programs teach students how to "counsel" or guide people through difficult times. Like psychologists, counselors use therapy to help their patients. They counsel people with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. But they usually give fewer psychological tests and do less research than psychologists. While it’s possible to work as a counselor with only a master’s, psychologists need a PhD.

Sociology is the study of human society. Like psychology, this degree is all about people. But it takes a different perspective. Psychology focuses on how individuals or small groups think, feel, and behave. Sociology looks at society as a whole, exploring the role of family, race, religion, and more.

Neuroscience programs teach students about the brain and nervous system. Both psychologists and neuroscientists study the human mind. But psychologists focus on what the mind does. They look at how it affects emotions, intelligence, decisions, and more. Neuroscientists, on the other hand, focus on how it works. They study chemical processes and physical components that help the brain function.

Skills You’ll Learn

No matter what path you choose, a degree in psychology can help you succeed in many careers. By studying this field, you’ll develop important professional skills, including:

Psychology teaches you to understand those around you, as well as yourself. You’ll graduate knowing how to recognize poor decision-making, negative thinking, and more.

Research and Data Analysis
Psychology is a science, and it teaches you the skills for it. During your degree, you’ll gain basic statistics knowledge. You’ll finish knowing how to collect, organize, and interpret data.

A psychology background also helps you translate that data into words. Students practice writing reports, giving presentations, and more. Plus, they understand their audience—the first step in great communication.

What Can You Do with a Psychology Degree?

These transferrable skills set psychology students up for success in many industries. Here are a few of the most popular ones:

Psychology (Professional Practice)
It’s the obvious choice, but it can be a rewarding one. Many psychology students do go on to become practicing psychologists. Depending on their specialty, they might work in a clinic, hospital, or school. Others work for themselves—in a private practice—on their own schedule. Whatever the specifics, all psychologists help patients lead happier, more fulfilling lives.

Psychology is an excellent foundation for a counseling career. In this field, psychology students can use their training to help those who need it most. There’s a wide range of specializations to choose from. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness meditation, career guidance—these are all options to consider.

Human Resources (HR)
Like psychology, human resources is all about people. HR professionals work in businesses of all sizes. They are responsible for hiring, training, and supervising staff. Psychology graduates can communicate well with people of different backgrounds, ages, and interests. They also know the signs of stress, anxiety, and depression. Together, these skills let them take great care of their team.

The same skills psychology students use to excel in HR help them thrive in management. Managers and supervisors work in all kinds of organizations: non-profit, business, government, and more. Psychology graduates understand how people learn, grow, and stay motivated. They can use this knowledge to help teams work together more efficiently and productively.

People often confuse psychiatrists with psychologists. Both treat patients with mental health, mood, and behavior issues. Both help people lead better lives. But unlike psychologists, psychiatrists are fully trained doctors. This means they can prescribe drugs, as well as provide therapy.

Many psychology graduates never practice psychology at all. Instead, they enter the world of research. Psychology researchers study all aspects of the human mind. Some work in universities, teaching and studying their favourite subject. Others work for government or private organizations.

Case Study

Can psychology land you a job in the President’s Office? In some cases, it can!

Barack Obama made headlines when he won the presidential election in 2018. His secret? Psychologists. To win, Obama hired a "dream team" of psychology researchers to guide his campaign. They used their knowledge of persuasion and decision-making to help him reach voters. For example, psychologists recommended he appear as warm and competent as possible. They also created a research-based plan to increase voter turnout.

Of course, not every psychology graduate ends up working for the President. But psychology is a very versatile degree. Almost any industry can benefit from understanding people better. So there’s no telling where a background in psychology will take you.


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