Top Psychology Careers

Psychology is the study of human and animal mental processes and behavior, usually accomplished by observing, recording and interpreting behavior over a long period of time. In practice, psychology careers also include many forms of helping others with their mental health.

There are many psychology career paths, although they tend to fall into three broad paths. Counseling focuses on treating disorders and mental health problems; education includes both teaching and working in a school environment; and assorted non-clinical specialties involve research and consulting on particular topics, such as criminal justice.

Read on for a guide to the types of psychology careers you can pursue at different levels of education.

Psychology Careers with Undergraduate Degrees

Careers with a BA in psychology tend not to include the classic image of a psychologist providing private therapy. However, many positions in counseling and social work are still open to those with a bachelor’s degree.

Social Service Managers

  • Projected national job growth: 27%
  • Average Salary: $57,950/year
  • Entry-level education: Bachelor’s degree, typically with some work experience as a social worker or in other psychology degree careers. Some positions may require a master’s degree.
  • Job description: Social service managers guide and supervise social service programs. You will need to hire and manage staff, analyze data and alter plans in order to fulfill community needs, stay in touch with local stakeholders, and, in some cases, work to raise money through fundraisers or grant applications.
  • Why would I want to do this? Choose a career as a social service manager if you want to combine your passion for helping others with business and management skills. This is also a good way to get a ‘big picture’ outlook at how social services integrate with a community.

Social Workers

  • Projected national job growth: 25%
  • Average Salary: $42,280/year
  • Entry-level education: Variable; however, a bachelor’s degree in psychology is a solid credential that will permit you to obtain most jobs. Some employers may require you to pursue a master’s in social work as well. There is licensure on a state-by-state basis, and licensing is required if you are a clinical social worker. It can also be helpful even for non-clinical workers. The Association of Social Work Boards provide a guide to state-level licensing.
  • Job description: Social workers help clients address problems in their everyday lives through advice, guidance with resources, and assistance in crisis situations. You can specialize as a service social worker, giving direct help, or a clinical social worker, diagnosing mental and emotional health issues and planning treatment.
  • Why would I want to do this? Pursue social work if you are a compassionate, well-organized person with great communication skills and a lot of patience. You can expect to work full-time in an office, though often with evening and weekend hours to better serve clients.

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Counselors

  • Projected national job growth: 27%
  • Average Salary: $38,120/year
  • Entry-level education: Bachelor’s degree, although some assistant positions may be open to those with only a high school diploma. Licensure is required, and you can find contact information for your state’s board at the National Board for Certified Counselors.
  • Job description: Substance abuse and behavioral counselors help people with problem behaviors, which usually include alcoholism and other forms of addiction. You can expect to help clients develop treatment goals, monitor their progress, refer them to other aid groups, and educate their family and loved ones.
  • Why would I want to do this? Choose substance and behavioral counseling if you are a skilled, compassionate listener able to communicate well and persuade others to make difficult choices. You can expect to work full time, and some positions may require night and weekend work.

Psychology Careers with Master’s Degrees

A master’s degree opens up many careers in psychology, particularly in the field of counseling.

Mental Health Counselors

  • Projected national job growth: 37%
  • Average Salary: $39,710/year
  • Entry-level education: Master’s degree. You will also need a license, which will require you to perform a great deal of supervised clinical work, pass a state-approved exam, and complete continuing education courses. You can find information on state regulating boards at the National Board for Certified Counselors.
  • Job description: Mental health counselors assist people trying to overcome disorders or psychological problems with their lives and relationships. As a mental health counselor, you will encourage your clients to express themselves freely, diagnose problems and coordinate treatments and referrals, and even specialize in a particular field, such as couples counseling.
  • Why would I want to do this? Pursue counseling if you have strong people skills, are well organized, and can communicate with others, both as a listener and a speaker. You can expect to work full-time in an office environment. Be prepared to work evening hours, as many clients have job responsibilities in the daytime.

Rehabilitation Counselors

  • Projected national job growth: 28%
  • Average Salary: $32,350/year
  • Entry-level education: Master’s degree, although some entry-level positions may only require a bachelor’s degree. A license is required to work in private practice, and is beneficial in other positions. You can earn one by passing a state-recognized exam (a guide is available through the National Board of Certified Counselors) and completing supervised clinical work.
  • Job description: Rehabilitation counselors help people with disabilities and other difficulties live independently, often specializing in a particular problem or disorder. You can expect to work with other professionals as well as your client to meet their individual needs, arrange for matters such as career training and medical care, and advocate for your client when troubles arise.
  • Why would I want to do this? Pursue rehabilitation counseling if you are a patient and compassionate person with excellent listening and communication skills. You can expect to work full-time, either in a larger facility or an agency on a case-by-case basis.

School and Career Counselors

  • Projected national job growth: 19%
  • Average Salary: $53,380/year
  • Entry-level education: Master’s degree. You will also need to earn a credential to work in public or private schools as a counselor. The American School Counselors Association publishes information on state requirements. Licensing is not required for most work as a career counselor, but it can be beneficial; the National Board for Certified Counselors has more information.
  • Job description: School and career counselors help students and employees to develop social skills, deal with problems, and get on a path to success. You can expect to work individually with your clients to develop plans to meet their specific goals, evaluate their aptitudes and talents, and put them in touch with special resources that meet their needs.
  • Why would I want to do this? Choose school or career counseling if you’re a compassionate person with excellent social skills and an interest in helping others get the most out of their careers. You can expect to work full time, although some school counselors will have a summer break.

Psychology Careers with Doctoral Degrees

A doctorate in psychology opens the doors to practicing psychology on a clinical level, as well as leading to other advanced psychology degree careers. It also permits you to teach psychology on a collegiate level.

Clinical Psychologists

  • Projected national job growth: 22%
  • Average Salary: $68,640/year
  • Entry-level education: Doctoral degree, although some positions may permit you to work with only a master’s degree. Becoming a practicing clinical psychologist requires licensing, which typically demands an internship, professional experience, and successfully passing an exam. Details vary by state, but the Association of State and Provincial Licensing Boards has information on requirements throughout the U.S. and Canada.
  • Job description: Clinical psychologists help patients who are suffering from short-term and chronic mental illnesses and disorders. You can expect to provide various forms of psychotherapy, develop plans for changing behavior, and help your patients implement those plans. You may also specialize in a particular field, such as child or marital therapy.
  • Why would I want to do this? Pursue clinical psychology if you combine observation, compassion and analytical skills with a desire to help others. You can expect to work full time, often on weekends or evenings to accommodate patients with responsibilities.

Forensic Psychologists

  • Projected national job growth: 22%
  • Average Salary: $68,640/year
  • Entry-level education: Doctoral degree. Some positions may accept you with a master’s degree, however, and some criminal justice coursework is helpful. A certification in forensic psychology is offered by the American Board of Professional Psychology’s forensic psychology board, and may assist you in finding work.
  • Job description: Forensic psychologists bring psychological principles to the legal and criminal justice sectors. You should expect to work with police and lawyers to understand a case, give expert testimony on psychological matters with some bearing on the case, and even concentrate in family law, criminal law, or other legal specialties.
  • Why would I want to do this? Follow the career path of a forensic psychologist if you like solving problems while observing, communicating and working with others in the context of the justice system. You can expect to work full time, and to frequently appear in court.

Industrial and Organizational Psychologists

  • Projected national job growth: 22%
  • Average Salary: $68,640/year
  • Entry-level education: Doctoral degree. The American Board of Professional Psychologists offers a certification in organizational psychology; you may also benefit from courses in business or engineering while still in school.
  • Job description: Industrial and organizational psychologists bring psychological principles and research methods to workplaces and businesses. You can expect to study the productivity of a particular worksite and advise management on altering their styles of organization and management to maximize performance. You will also be expected to assist in training and screening of new employees.
  • Why would I want to do this? Pursue industrial and organizational psychology if you are a problem-solver with great people skills to go along with strong observation and analysis. It is an ideal career if you wish to apply your knowledge to a large organizational setting. You can expect full-time work, typically at an office or a manufacturing facility.

Psychology Professors

  • Projected national job growth: 17%
  • Average Salary: $62,050/year
  • Entry-level education: Doctoral degree in psychology. You may be able to teach as an adjunct in some schools with only a master’s degree, however.
  • Job description: Professors teach about psychology and perform new research in the field. You can expect to plan classes and lessons, grade papers, and supervise graduate assistants who will also be teaching courses. You will also likely conduct research into psychological topics, often working alongside graduate students and other faculty.
  • Why would I want to do this? Pursue psychology professorship if you feel motivated by teaching and researching, as well as working with students. You can expect to work fairly flexible hours, amounting to a full time workload.

Apply to Jobs Using these Resources

Finding that first job after graduation is difficult. Increase your chances of finding work by applying to dozens of jobs using the resources below.

Psychology Professional Groups

The following is a selection of professional groups in various psychological specialties who host job listings. Joining a professional group while still studying can improve your psychology career outlook, and many have reasonable student rates.

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology – Submit a résumé to this members-only resource and let them match you up with interested employers. A searchable index of job openings is also available.

American Counseling Association Career Center –This site offers advice on landing your first counseling job, as well as a listing of employment opportunities sorted by academic and clinical positions.

American Psychiatric Association JobCentral – The American Psychiatric Association hosts a huge number of psychological jobs on their site, where you can also post a résumé.

American Psychology-Law Society – This site has a collection of links for psychology positions in the fields of law and criminal justice, including openings in the U.S. and Canada. Openings are sorted by academic, professional or post-doctoral opportunity.

Association for Psychological Science Employment Network – This comprehensive site lets you search for jobs in a wide range of psychological specialties, as well as letting you sort positions by employer, location or keyword.

International Neuropsychological Society – If you are searching for work in neuropsychology, this professional site collects job openings in academia and clinical practice from around the world.

National Association of School Psychologists – This site offers career tips as well as access to jobs nationwide for school psychologists and those in related fields, such as behavioral analysts and clinical directors.

Social Psychology Network – This site provides career outlook, financial aid tips and advice for graduate students along with access to a number of job and internship sites.

Society of Behavioral Medicine – This site has a collection of openings for psychologists, often focusing on behavioral counseling and other aspects of the field. The jobs range from research to clinical and academic posts.

Psychology Job Sites

These sites focus on recruiting for psychology careers, and include both general purpose and specialized sites.

Forensic Psychology Jobs – This resource provides you with listings of opportunities for experts in forensic psychology, as well as offering other services, such as a free résumé critique.

Psychology Jobs Abroad – If you want to work abroad, this site provides you with resources for overseas internships, work experiences, and other opportunities, including the chance to become an educator at a foreign university.

School Psychology Job Center – This site recruits school psychologists in the U.S. and abroad, as well as permitting you to post your own “job sought” entries. A mailing list is also provided for regular e-mail updates.

SocialService.com – Directed at social workers and other counselors, this site lets you post a résumé, create a search agent to inform you of new job postings, and apply for jobs with just a few clicks.

Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology Jobnet – Offered by a special division of the American Psychological Association, this site requires registration, but offers internship connections as well as job postings you can sort by location, degree or keyword.