Through a bachelor’s degree in psychology, students learn (and are able to demonstrate) a unique skillset focused on critical thinking, scientific problem solving, technical writing, speaking, and research ethics. Although undergraduate programs vary according to the emphasis placed on scientific components (BA vs BS), most programs have a core that ensures a robust science experience.
Psychology remains one of the most popular undergraduate majors. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 1.8 million bachelor’s degrees were conferred in 2011-12. Of those, 109,000 were in psychology, representing a full six percent of all bachelor’s degrees conferred nationwide during that period.
The NCES also reports that about 25 percent of all psychology undergraduates go on to pursue graduate work, with about 20 to 22 percent completing a master’s degree in psychology, and an additional 4 to 6 percent going on to study psychology at the doctoral level.
Although very few graduate programs in psychology require incoming students to have an undergraduate degree in psychology, many students with aspirations of pursuing graduate work choose to complete a bachelor’s degree in psychology in an effort to become better prepared for graduate studies.
The Value of Bachelor’s Degrees in Psychology
The principles of psychology can be found in nearly every field, making a bachelor’s degree in this discipline an ideal foundation for careers in business, healthcare, personnel management, marketing, social work, law, and education, just to name a few.
Bachelor’s degrees provide students with a basis for understanding interpersonal interaction, the major theoretical schools of psychological thought, and the fundamentals of psychological research. These programs emphasize the application of biological, social, and professional principles and concepts as they relate to psychological needs.
Graduates of psychology bachelor’s degree programs are able to:
- Develop a working knowledge of psychology’s content domains
- Apply psychological content and skills to meet professional goals
- Apply ethical standards to science and to professional practice
- Effectively write, speak, and interact with others
- Engage in science-based reasoning to interpret behaviors and solve problems
Understanding the Difference Between the BA and BS in Psychology
Undergraduate degrees in psychology—Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Science (BS) programs—provide students with a fundamental understanding of the field of psychology. However, there are fundamental differences between a BA and a BS. In general, they can be differentiated by the percentage of courses taken in the study of psychology. BA programs tend to feature a smaller number of courses in psychology, along with a variety of courses in various fields outside of the major. BS degrees, on the other hand, feature a more extensive course list in psychology, along with courses in math and science and a smaller number of courses outside of the major.
Bachelor of Science in Psychology
The fact that the Bachelor of Science in Psychology leans more towards courses in mathematics and the natural sciences makes it appropriate for students looking to facilitate future study in psychology or those preparing for careers in medicine or related health fields. The science-oriented curriculum often includes courses in:
- Clinical/Behavioral Health
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- Quantitative Psychology
- Development/Social Health
Many times, BS programs require students to complete a specific track of science courses, which would include:
- Life Sciences
- Computer Science
A number of institutions also give students the option of choosing a business track consisting of courses that complement their BS in Psychology. A business track is often the ideal option for students seeking careers in human resources, management, healthcare administration, and business, or for students considering graduate study in industrial-organizational psychology, leadership, or consumer behavior.
Bachelor of Arts in Psychology
The Bachelor of Arts in Psychology provides a broad education in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. In addition to courses in the social and behavioral sciences, many institutions also require students in a BA in Psychology program to take a foreign language course. These BA programs are designed for students interested in studying human behavior in preparation to work in an applied psychology profession or for students interested in graduate work in an applied psychology field or related fields like social work, or counseling.
Courses unique to a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology often include:
- Cognitive Psychology
- Child Development
- Mind and Brain (Cognitive Neuroscience)
- Adulthood and Aging
- Social Personality
The Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology: What to Expect
Although the content of bachelor’s degree programs in psychology will vary somewhat from one program to the next, the American Psychological Association (APA) created a set of comprehensive guidelines (2013 Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major) in an effort to achieve continuity and effective learning outcomes for undergraduate programs in psychology.
Specifically, the APA outlined five, inclusive goals every undergraduate program should encompass. These include:
- Goal 1: Knowledge Base in Psychology
- Goal 2: Scientific Inquiry and Critical Thinking
- Goal 3: Ethical and Social Responsibility in a Diverse World
- Goal 4: Professional Development
- Goal 5: Communication
Required courses in all bachelor’s degree programs in psychology (both BS and BA) often include the following:
- Introduction to Psychology
- Statistical Analysis of Behavioral Data
- Experimental Research Methods
Psychology programs also require students to take a number of psychology courses to meet program requirements, such as:
- Abnormal psychology
- Developmental psychology
- History and systems of psychology
- Social psychology
- Organizational psychology
- Psychological disorders
- Psychology of women
- Psychology of religion
- Psychological disorders
A typical bachelor’s degree in psychology consists of 120 credit hours and four years of full-time study. A number of institutions now offer their psychology programs through online study.
Students interested in pursuing post-graduate employment upon completing their undergraduate degree in psychology may benefit from such electives as:
- Business administration
- Personnel administration
- Social work
Most institutions encourage undergraduate students to participate in psychology research activities while completing the program. Many basic psychology courses include a research component, and many programs offer research opportunities in faculty labs and through outside research assignments.
Jobs Requiring a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology
A look at available jobs (January 2016) revealed a wide array of opportunities for those with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Although the following list does not offer the assurance of employment, it does provide insight into the types of jobs commonly held by individuals with bachelor’s degrees in psychology:
- Mental Health Counselor: John Muir Health, Concord, CA
- Foster Care Case Management Supervisor: Children’s Hope Alliance, Charlotte, NC
- Mental Health Practitioner/Rehab Worker: Zumbro Valley Health Center, Rochester, MN
- Childcare Workers: Jewish Child and Family Services, Chicago, IL
- Research Assistant: Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
- Administrator/Drug and Alcohol Counselor: Axiom Family Counseling Services, Greensburg, PA
- Rehabilitation Instructor: Arkansas Department of Human Services, Little Rock, AR
- Treatment Counselor: Corrections Corporation of America, Corpus Christi, TX
- Social Workers: Emory University, Atlanta, GA
- Case Manager/Adult Rehab Life Skills Specialist: Cummins Behavioral Health Systems, Indianapolis, IN
- Human Services Caseworker: State of Illinois, Champaign County, IL
- Case Manager: Street Youth Ministries, Seattle, WA
- Social Service Consultants: Strategic Resolutions, New Haven, CT
- Life Skills Instructor: Aspire Indiana, Indianapolis, IN
- Research Associate: UMPC, Pittsburgh, PA