Put simply, psychologists examine how people think, communicate, behave or interact with each other and with their environment. While that may seem like a fairly direct career choice, there are actually multiple ways in which psychologists may pursue their profession. From working directly with patients and clients, to helping businesses understand their markets, there are numerous career paths for psychology graduates, making it one of the more exciting disciplines to study!
In this guide we will look at career options for psychology graduates, including popular positions as well as unique occupations you may have overlooked, and discuss the most efficient way to plan your career path:
Psychology Career Outlook
Psychology is a growing field worth considering for your career path, but the route you take will play a big role in your success. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts 3% job growth between 2019 and 2029 for careers in psychology, which is about on par with the average for all industries.
However, certain occupations within the field of psychology have a faster than average career outlook, particularly in counseling. Whether you choose to pursue graduate studies is another important factor to consider, as is the region in which you live.
The following table displays the current average US salary for several popular psychology careers, pulled from a range of top job websites. The columns are sortable (on desktop) and the data is current as of August 2021.
However, many of the top-employing occupations for psychology majors don’t necessarily have the word “psychologist” in their job title. Substance abuse, behavioral, and mental health counselors should see a growth rate of 25% over the next ten years, while school and career counselors can expect 8% growth, and postsecondary teachers (also known as professors) are predicted to see job growth rate of 9%. All of these figures are much faster than average.
|Human Services Coordinator||$29,610||$40,503||$42,949||$44,687||$39,437|
|Marriage and Family Therapist||$56,268||$49,850||$55,254||$90,808||$63,045|
|Mental Health Counselor||$65,766||$49,480||$43,916||$57,984||$54,287|
|Substance Abuse Counselor||$54,950||$40,500||$39,662||$43,789||$44,725|
A master’s degree will give you more options than a bachelor’s degree. For example, school and career counselors are typically required to have a master’s degree. However, there are some entry-level positions available for those who choose to complete a bachelor’s degree in psychology, including within the fast-growing field of substance abuse, behavioral, and mental health counseling.
Pursuing a doctoral degree in psychology will provide you with the strongest career outlook. With a doctoral degree, you can choose from a variety of occupations in psychology, from teaching at a university to counseling.
Check out the buttons below for more information about different degree levels for psychology students:
Skills Needed for a Career in Psychology
Psychology is a unique field because you need both analytical skills and interpersonal skills to be successful. While you need a strong understanding of scientific methods to conduct and understand research, you also need to have strong communication skills to apply that knowledge to helping others. Creativity and adaptability are also beneficial if you choose to pursue a career in psychology.
Whether you are conducting research, counseling students, or working to improve workplace productivity, you will need to use scientific methods to understand and find solutions to problems. This requires strong observational and analytical skills.
At times, you may need to think critically and solve problems in creative ways. For instance, if you are working as a mental health counselor, you will need to look at a variety of factors that may be affecting a person’s mental health in order to diagnose and find the right treatment for that individual.
It is equally important for psychologists to realize that no two people are the same and to use empathy in their work. This requires strong communication skills, active listening, and the ability to consider different perspectives. Psychologists often need to explain concepts to patients in a way that is easy to understand and work with them to find practical solutions to their problems.
As the field of psychology continues to grow, adaptability is an increasingly important skill for psychologists to have. This is in part because psychologists need to understand the latest research and apply it to their work.
Additionally, if you are able to adapt and apply your skills to newer, growing fields in psychology, you will have more opportunities throughout your career.
9 Popular Psychology Careers
Psychology is a diverse field with a wide range of career opportunities. While all psychologists study the mind and behavior, how they apply that knowledge varies.
Some psychologists choose to focus on research and teaching, while some prefer to work with people directly as a counseling psychologist or school psychologist. Or you may use your psychology degree to help businesses understand customers or work more efficiently.
If you’re interested in psychology, but not quite sure which field is right for you, take a look at some of these popular career paths for psychologists. Some of these fields are high-paying and quickly growing. You may find something you have never even considered that fits your skillset and career goals.
# 1School Psychologist
Salary range: $62,882 to $84,583
If you enjoy working with students, you may want to consider a career as a school psychologist. School psychologists can provide assessment and counseling for students in need of behavioral interventions at school.
They may work with parents and staff to implement a plan to improve the student’s ability to learn by changing behavior. School psychologists may educate students on issues like drug abuse and bullying.
If you become a school psychologist, you might work in public or private elementary and secondary schools, colleges, universities, and even juvenile detention centers.
Dr. Frank C. Worrell is a Professor of School Psychology in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley, and an affiliate Professor in Personality and Social Psychology in the Psychology Department at UC Berkeley. Dr. Worrell is currently the 2021 President-Elect of the American Psychological Association.
My idea for schools, and I’ve given this advice to low-income school districts, is to encourage students to follow their passion and to start doing this from kindergarten. There’s no reason why you can’t have once-a-month “Fun Fridays” where students can explore new subjects and ideas long before they might qualify for a gifted and talented or accelerated education program.
Bring in parents and have teachers who do music, painting, chess and so forth with the students. You may have some students doing math and others studying history. And what happens is that you normalize the individual differences and celebrate them right from the start.
# 2Clinical Psychologist
Salary range: $78,366 to $100,800
Clinical psychology might be the first career you think of when you imagine a career in psychology. A clinical psychologist is someone who assesses and treats mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. These could be short-term or ongoing problems.
As a clinical psychologist, you might specialize by focusing on certain areas, like depression or substance abuse. Or you may specialize in working with a certain group of people, such as families or youth. Clinical psychologists can work in hospitals, clinics, universities, or even correctional facilities.
Dr. Leah Katz is a clinical psychologist working in Portland, Oregon. She specializes in working with teenage girls and women, with a primary focus on treating anxiety, stress and depression. Her practice utilizes cognitive behavioral, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and mindfulness techniques.
Being positive isn’t just about saying, “I’m just going to be happy and I’m going to make the best of things.” It’s about being real. It’s okay to be sad or to have to work through difficult things in life. Let’s stop judging ourselves for the stress and the anxiety and instead move towards realizing that sometimes it makes sense to feel sad or anxious or upset.
The most important thing is to know that it will pass. I’m not saying that we should minimize the experience, but I think that perspective is always helpful and if you’re going through something painful, know that sadness or stress is a reasonable response, but that this isn’t all there is.
# 3Counseling Psychologist
Salary range: $55,553 to $86,938
Another popular career path is counseling psychology. Similar to clinical psychologists in some ways, counseling psychologists can help people with mental health issues as well as everyday problems, such as stress management.
Counseling psychologists teach patients coping strategies and empower them to use their strengths to overcome difficulties in life. This type of psychologist can work in a variety of settings and with any age group or population. They may focus on specific problems like substance abuse or depression.
Lia Huynh, LMFT, is a relationship counselor and therapist with over 15 years experience working with couples to help them find happiness and balance in their lives and relationships. We had the opportunity to talk to her about her decision to become a counselor, what her job looks like, and what advice she would give to others considering marriage counseling as a career.
You can learn more about what she does and the services she offers on her website, liahuynh.com.
For me, I can’t see myself doing anything else. I love what I do and feel very blessed to make a living helping others. To be a good counselor, you have to be okay with sitting in pain and/or anger with your clients, and this is very counterintuitive to our culture which tells us to numb our pain or just “be happy.” Many people go to therapists because so many people in their lives don’t have the capacity to hold others’ emotions. So we have a very special and important role….
And never think you have all the answers just because you have the degree. Your clients will be your greatest teachers and we need to come with humility before our clients, as partners and as humble guides, knowing that we will learn something along the way.
# 4Sports Psychologist
Average salary: $72,257
In essence, a sports psychologist is like an emotional coach for athletes. Instead of focusing on the physical side of the game, sports psychologists focus on the psychological side.
A large part of their job is to help athletes overcome mental blocks like performance anxiety, intense stress, and poor communication skills.
Sports psychologists may also be tasked with helping athletes through the psychological struggles that can come with recovering from injury or experiencing a lack of motivation.
Laura El-Mir has a BA in Clinical Psychology and an MSc in Sport and Exercise Psychology. She is a practicing sports psychologist who helps athletes achieve their full mental and physical potentials.
In her practice she supports her clients by helping them overcome performance anxiety, managing and returning from injury, preparing for competition, managing emotions, team cohesion, coach-athlete relationships, and more.
Sports psychology is not the same as personal training. It is not the same as clinical psychology. Sports psychology is the study of how psychology can be used to improve athletic performance and how physical activity can be used to improve mental health. It is not a type of therapy, however it does involve mental skills training based on evidence-based techniques that can enhance performance and improve athletes’ overall well-being….
If you have a passion for sports and psychology, combining them together would help you on a personal level reach a state of mental toughness, which will in turn allow you to help athletes reach this state as well. Understanding the mechanisms behind sports psychology and applying them can benefit athletes achieve their personal and performance goals. And watching them thrive is in itself satisfactory and thrilling.
# 5Forensic Psychologist
Salary range: $63,725 to $105,116
Television and Hollywood have glamorized the position of the forensic psychologist somewhat, but it is still one of the most interesting careers in psychology today.
A career as a forensic psychologist is perfect for those who are interested in the legal system as well as the psychological aspects of crime. Forensic psychologists are regularly called upon as experts for a variety of legal proceedings, including criminal trials, civil lawsuits, and even insurance disputes.
# 6Industrial & Organizational Psychologist
Salary range: $75,856 to $125,227
A growing field in psychology you may not have considered is industrial and organizational psychology. This kind of psychologist focuses on improving productivity and employee satisfaction in the workplace.
Industrial and organizational psychologists help find solutions to workplace problems and assist in determining promotions and placement of employees in a way that will benefit both the company and their employees.
They may conduct testing and train employees to improve the workplace environment. Industrial and organizational psychologists can work for a variety of companies and organizations as human resource specialists or management consultants.
# 7Child and Adolescent Psychologist
Salary range: $67,674 to $135,009
If you enjoy helping young people, a career as a child and adolescent psychologist might be right for you. A child and adolescent psychologist might focus on research, counseling, or school psychology. These psychologists can work in preschools, childcare settings, social services, or child advocacy organizations.
Or you may work in a hospital or private practice offering counseling services. If you choose to focus on research, you won’t be working directly with children and adolescents, but your research will be helpful to those who do.
# 8Neuropsychologist or
Salary range: $94,128 to $136,909
This is a highly specialized area of study that offers a unique career path for psych majors. This field focuses on examining the relationship between the human brain and how people behave. Neuropsychology is a flexible field as well, so every conceivable avenue of research will be open to you.
For those who are interested in treating patients with brain injury or disease, the path of clinical neuropsychology is also an option. While this does require a Ph.D., it is one of the most interesting careers in psychology.
# 9Social Psychologist
Salary range: $79,768 to $81,945
Social psychologists study social interactions and how they influence behavior. They research how people and groups interact in order to solve problems related to a variety of issues, from prejudice to criminal activity.
Social psychologists may also apply their research to help businesses and organizations understand the public and improve their interactions, within and outside of the organization.
While many social psychologists obtain a doctoral degree to pursue a career in research or teaching, there are a variety of careers that social psychology can be applied to outside of academia. For example, social psychologists may find work in marketing, politics, or technology design.
Unique and Unusual Psychology Careers
The field of psychology is incredibly diverse, which means the job opportunities are nearly endless. Despite the breadth and depth found in this discipline, there are still so many people that think a degree in this major means you can only get a job as a clinical therapist, counselor, or teacher.
While these are all great and fulfilling careers, there is far more to the job market for this major than you might expect. Below are a few interesting and unique careers in the field of psychology that you should consider.
# 1Recreational Therapist
Salary range: $41,548 to $68,293
This career path has some of the most potential for becoming a fun and rewarding job for any psychology major. Recreational therapy is a blanket term for a variety of non-medical treatments.
Most of these treatments are arts-based, such as music, art, and dance therapy, though a variety of other activities such as drama, crafts, sports, and specialized field trips can be used as well.
This type of job deals with individuals who are mentally ill, disabled, injured, or chronically sick. Recreational therapists may also be found working in assisted living facilities developing social and emotional activities for seniors with varying levels of dementia. Recreational therapists develop treatment plans using a variety of modalities to help patients become independent, cope with anxiety, and integrate successfully into their community.
# 2Traffic Psychologist
This job title might sound a bit ridiculous, but this is one of the most important and interesting psychology careers in our modern world. Traffic psychologists work closely with city planners, local governments, transportation officials, designers, and engineers to study the behaviors of road and automobile users.
Traffic psychologists rely heavily on psychological theory to interpret things like accident research and behavior research to help make the roadways safer and more efficient.
Because the demand for traffic psychologists varies so much from one location to the next, it is difficult to give reliable salary information. However, the highest demand for this career is going to be in large, urban areas, so these are the places you can expect to see the highest wages.
# 3Military Psychologist
Salary range: $80,460 to $116,364
If you’ve had a career with the armed forces then you should definitely consider using your skills as a military psychologist after graduation. This specialty focuses on caring for both military personnel and their families.
Military psychologists not only perform psychiatric evaluations for service members, but they also treat mental disorders within their branch of service and provide counseling to personnel and military families.
Depending on your specialization, you can also opt to perform tests and research for military-specific issues.
Choosing the Right Path For You
The best part about finding rewarding careers in psychology is that this list just barely scratches the surface. There are dozens of other niches and specialties in just about every area of interest, so if none of these jobs sound appealing there are still plenty more to choose from.
One of the best ways to figure out a shortlist of potential psychology careers for you is to first decide how far along in your education you’re willing to go. While a few of these positions will allow entry-level work with a bachelor’s degree, almost every job listed here requires at least a master’s, and many require doctorate-level work.
Once you have decided how far your college path will go, then you can start to examine your interests outside of your chosen discipline. This will help you narrow down the tremendously large field of potential jobs and allow you to find your niche. The sooner you can narrow down your fields of interest within the major, the longer you can spend specializing in those interests. This will help ensure that you get a job you will love after graduation.
Certifications and Licenses
If you plan to become a practicing psychologist, it is important to understand the required licenses and certifications in your state.
Every state requires licensure for most types of psychologists, particularly those who work with clients in a therapy or counseling setting. Certifications are usually optional, but can improve your career outlook.
Requirements for licensure vary by state, so it is important to look into the specific requirements where you live and keep them in mind when choosing a psychology program. Every state will require you to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), but there may be varying requirements you need to meet before taking the examination.
You may need to have your doctoral degree finished or a set number of hours in the field completed before taking the exam, depending on where you live. Some states will also require you to take something called a jurisprudence exam, which covers specific laws in your state relevant to practicing psychology.
If you choose to seek optional certification you can show your expertise in a specific field, which may give you a leg up over the competition when it comes time to find a job. Being board certified by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) can also be helpful for practicing psychologists to gain respect in the field.
You can become certified in the field you specialize in, such as forensic psychology, clinical psychology, or organizational and business consulting. As with licensure, there is typically an exam as well as requirements based on education and field experience.
5 Frequently Asked Questions
1. What job settings and environments do psychologists work in?
Psychologists can work in a variety of settings. More traditional settings may include hospitals, mental health and behavioral clinics, or private practices. School psychologists and school counselors can work in daycare, elementary and secondary schools, or colleges.
Some psychologists are employed by correctional facilities or work in other government settings, and if you go into industrial and organizational psychology you could work for businesses and organizations as well.
2. What does the typical psychologist’s workday look like?
Many psychologists work regular full-time hours, although some work evenings and weekends to accommodate patients’ schedules. If you decide to go into clinical or counseling psychology, your day may consist of therapy sessions, diagnostic testing, and planning treatments.
Some career paths will require a good deal of researching and collecting data rather than spending time with patients. School psychologists and postsecondary teachers may spend time teaching classes or updating Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for disabled students as well.
3. How long does it take to become a psychologist?
If your goal is to become a licensed psychologist, you will need to complete a doctoral degree. This can take several years to complete on top of your undergraduate studies. However, there are still plenty of job opportunities in the field of psychology that don’t require a doctoral degree.
For instance, you may find entry-level counseling positions available for those with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, which typically takes four years to complete. A master’s degree in psychology will open up more opportunities and typically takes another two years to complete after your undergraduate coursework.
4. What are the highest-paying jobs in psychology?
Industrial and organizational psychology is one of the fastest-growing and best-paying career paths in psychology, with an average salary range between $73,000 and $126,000 annually.
Other high-paying fields include neuropsychology and clinical psychology. In general, the best-paying psychology careers tend to require at least a master’s degree, and typically a doctoral degree.
5. Is a degree in psychology worth it?
Whether you find a psychology degree to be worth it or not depends on a variety of factors. If you choose to pursue graduate studies, this will cost you more in tuition, but it will open up some high-paying career opportunities.
If you choose to pursue a bachelor’s or master’s degree, you may not be employed in the highest-paying fields of psychology, but you will also have more flexibility to look outside of the field of psychology. Overall, the skills and knowledge you gain from a psychology degree will be beneficial to you in almost any career path you choose
Career and Industry Resources
- American Psychological Association (APA) – This is the largest association of psychologists in the United States. The APA provides a variety of resources including research, continuing education, and career development opportunities for psychologists.
- American Academy of Clinical Psychology (AACP) – The AACP is an organization of board-certified psychologists in the field of clinical psychology. They promote high standards and high-quality service in the field and offer member services such as access to research, continuing education, and networking.
- Association for Psychological Science (APS) – This is an international organization with the goal of advancing scientific psychology across fields and geographic borders. Their website provides research and career resources as well.
- American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) – The mission of the ABPP is to promote quality psychological services through examination and certification. Their website has information on requirements for various board certifications.
- American Counseling Association (ACA) – The ACA provides educational and career resources for counseling psychologists. They have an annual conference and a variety of other resources available on their website.
- Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) – This is where you can find more information on your state’s requirements for licensing and register for the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).
- National Alliance of Professional Psychology Providers (NAPPP) – The NAPPP promotes doctoral-level clinical psychology. They offer continuing education courses, training, and certifications for clinical psychologists. The NAPPP website has some useful resources like position papers which cover important topics in the field.
- National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) – If you are considering a career in school psychology, the NASP website has a variety of resources you may find helpful and informative. They also provide professional development opportunities and information on certifications.
- Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) – This is the world’s largest organization of personality and social psychologists. The SPSP offers educational events, networking opportunities, research publishing and mentoring among other resources.
- Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) – This organization is focused on the field of industrial and organizational psychology. You can visit the SIOP website for research, educational resources, a career center and professional development opportunities.
American Psychological Association (2021) Starting in Your Career. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/careers/starting-your-career
American Psychological Association (2021) Careers in Psychology. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/careers/resources/guides/careers.aspx
American Psychological Association (2001) The career path less traveled:
A growing number of recent graduates are forging ahead in new, less traveled directions. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/monitor/feb01/careerpath.aspx
Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019) Psychologists: Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm