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What Can I Do with a Psychology Degree?

By Kristen Lee
March 14, 2018

As the lead faculty member for behavioral science and an associate teaching professor, I’m often asked whether getting a psychology degree is a worthwhile investment.

The short answer is, “Yes.” But it’s important to know the why’s and how’s in order to build a career that works for you.

By 2026, the demand for psychologists is expected to grow 14 percent—faster than the average for all occupations. While that increase is exciting, because of the unlimited number of rewarding opportunities to apply psychology, career changers can find it overwhelming to figure out which path to pursue.

Psychology is a popular degree choice that’s often surrounded by confusion about how to apply it, and whether it will bring about the right kind of opportunities. Based on my conversations with prospective, current, and former students, and industry data, there are three common myths that need to be dismantled. Here are some important ways to rethink a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Myth #1: I Have to Become a Therapist, Which Means Years and Years of School

While many psychology students are interested in eventually becoming a clinician, there are also several opportunities for immediate employment in a wide range of job roles and sectors.

The World Health Organization reports documented critical shortages of case managers and workers who serve children and families, veterans, those affected by the opioid crisis, and vulnerable populations who are marginalized because of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, or otherwise.

At Northeastern, many students immediately head straight to graduate school toward their goal of becoming a therapist. But many choose to work in industry to gain valuable experience and make important contributions within clinics, hospitals, schools, and nonprofit agencies, where their skill level is the exact fit that allows them to excel as agents of change within direct service, professional, and managerial roles.

Myth #2: Psychology Is Touchy-Feely, Self-Help Stuff

Psychology is considered a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) discipline that has evolved far from its more philosophical origins. With the evolution of modern brain science, we now have more precise metrics to understand human behavior than ever before. Research in psychology provides insights into how we make decisions, how we make sense of our complex environments, and ways we can drive improvements in our professional and personal lives. Yes, psychology can be applied to help regulate emotions and foster well-being, but scientific psychology isn’t like the fluffy advice flooding our social media feeds, promising to fix life’s problems in three “easy” steps.

A predominant theme that flows across our program is helping cultivate critical thinking skills to apply them into positive, actionable steps. Students learn to follow precise methods in their thinking that allow them to avoid sloppy decisions and uninformed opinions. In our grab-and-go Google world, knowing how to carefully harness the power of our brains to make rational decisions is a defining marker of becoming successful, conscious, and global lifelong learners.

Myth #3: No One Will Want to Hire Me Outside of the Psychology Field

Many people mistakenly believe that they can only apply their degree in known settings where psychology is used, like outpatient offices or schools, when in fact the skills are transferable to a wide variety of settings. In fact, many people use an undergraduate psychology degree as a catalyst to manage and lead teams, launch their business, or go into fields such as social work, law, medicine, health management, project management, analytics, public affairs, and education.

Communication, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and agility are among the hottest in-demand skills in today’s competitive market. It would be hard to name an industry or job that doesn’t require us to be competent communicators and thinkers who can readily adjust to rapid change.

At Northeastern, these are the very skills that are woven into not only our classes but within our Experiential Network (XN) program, which offers tailored, project-based opportunities that ensure students have plenty of chances to apply the science of psychology to meet real-world problems with innovative solutions.

What Can You Do With A Psychology Degree?

Psychology careers come in all shapes and sizes—the sky is the limit. To avoid “choice paralysis,” consider the following ways that people translate their knowledge of brain science and human behavior into meaningful work:

  • Study and treat individuals experiencing mental health distress and problems
  • Work with business executives, performers, and athletes to improve performance
  • Coordinate with leaders in law enforcement and public health to address community issues
  • Analyze data to bolster outcomes for organizations

While some students arrive needing to take a long list of classes, many bring in prior academic credits along with valuable professional and personal life experiences. They simply need to finish a few remaining courses toward their degree to get the kind of skills needed to advance within their job or try new opportunities.

Psychology has something valuable to offer everyone—including you.

If you are interested in learning more about earning your psychology degree, explore Northeastern’s Bachelor of Science in Psychology program.


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About Kristen Lee
Kristen Lee is the lead faculty for behavioral science and leadership at Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies. Dr. Lee combines 22 years of direct practice and ten years in higher education to create innovative programs for students worldwide

Her research and teaching interests include individual and organizational well-being and resilience, particularly for marginalized and underserved populations. She operates a clinical and consulting practice devoted to preventing and treating burnout and is the author of RESET: Make the Most of Your Stress—winner of the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Motivational Book of 2015—and Mentalligence: A New Psychology of Thinking. She is a regular contributor to Psychology Today, and her work has been featured on NPR and CBS Radio.