Bachelor’s Degree Programs in Psychology

Overview

Imagine having the knowledge and skills to work in many different industries. You could be a probation officer or a human resources manager. You could work for a social service agency as a case worker or you could work for businesses and industries to improve their workers’ productivity. You could even work for local, state, or federal governments or in a local school district. There are countless career options for students that graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

What is a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology?

A bachelor’s degree in psychology is an intermediate program that involves more in-depth study than in an associate’s degree, but which does not meet the same advanced level of study as a master’s degree program. Students that complete a bachelor’s degree in psychology are well prepared to enter the workforce in a variety of entry-level work settings. Undergraduate studies in psychology also give students the foundational knowledge they need to pursue a master’s degree.

Typical bachelor’s degree programs in psychology are around 120 semester credit hours. Of these, approximately half are electives and general education classes, while the other half are specifically in the field of psychology. Undergraduate programs are designed to be completed in four years of full-time study. However, students can complete a bachelor’s degree program in less time, especially if they attend school during the summer and begin college with college credits already in place from their high school studies.

Bachelor’s degrees in psychology are offered as either a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of science. The differences between the two are discussed below.

What is the Difference Between a Bachelor of Arts (B.A) and a Bachelor of Science Degree (B.S.) in Psychology?

The primary difference between a B.A. and B.S. in psychology is in the number and types of courses taken. Students that pursue a B.A. in psychology will take more electives and courses outside the study of psychology. B.A. programs also usually entail a lesser number of psychology courses to be taken in order to fulfill the degree requirements.

On the other hand, B.S. degrees in psychology often require a larger number of psychology courses to be taken. Because there are more required courses in psychology, students pursuing this degree option take fewer electives and courses in other subject areas. However, B.S. degrees emphasize science and math, so students in these degree programs will take more science and math classes than students in a B.A. program.

Because of these differences, B.A. programs are usually better suited for individuals that may or may not work in the field of psychology. For example, a B.A. in psychology would be good preparation for work in business and industry in the field of human resources. Conversely, B.S. programs are designed more for students that wish to pursue higher degrees in psychology and enter the workforce in a psychology-related occupation.

What Do You Learn in a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology?

While much more advanced than the coursework involved in an associate’s degree program, bachelor’s degree programs are still quite broad and seek to provide students with a wide range of knowledge and skills. Some of the primary topics of study may include:

  • Psychological research – Students learn how to conduct research, including designing and carrying out experiments, collecting and analyzing data, and drawing up reports of the findings of their studies. Undergraduate students typically perform experiments that involve human subjects, although animal subjects are often used as well.
  • Psychology of learning – The manner in which humans learn is the focus of study. Students investigate various means by which conditioning occurs, including both operant and classical conditioning. The basic theories of learning, such as social learning and cognitivism, are explored as well.
  • History of psychology – This course gives students a broad overview of the development of psychology as a science. Major figures in psychology, including Sigmund Freud, B.F. Skinner, and John Watson are explored in depth, as are their theories and their work.
  • Physiological psychology – Many undergraduate programs require students to develop an understanding of the physical causes of behavior. Students examine the body’s systems and analyze how physical structures can influence the manner in which a person acts. For example, students look at how certain neurotransmitters in the brain can impact the development of disorders like depression.

Many other elective courses in psychology are common as well. Students might opt to take a business psychology class or one related to forensic psychology and its application in the criminal justice system. Biological psychology, social psychology, and comparative psychology are further options for electives in this field.

What is an Online Bachelor’s Program in Psychology?

Bachelor’s degree programs in psychology are highly popular options for students that attend school online. Like the programs offered in traditional on-campus settings, online programs in psychology involve studies of general psychology, abnormal psychology, industrial-organizational psychology, statistics, and research methods, just to name a few.

While online programs in psychology have the same course and credit requirements – usually 120 semester credits – they can often be completed more quickly than on-campus programs. The flexibility of online studies means that students can take more classes each semester, and take classes year-round in order to finish their degree sooner. Students are relatively free to complete their work whenever it suits them best, although some courses may require students to participate in activities at a specific time. For example, a professor of an online psychology course may ask his students to participate in a video or audio chat each week on a specific day and time.

Because students are able to work at their own pace, online bachelor’s degree programs can be completed in as little as 2 ½ to 3 years. However, this is fairly uncommon and 4 years or longer is a much more typical timeframe to complete an online undergraduate degree in psychology.

How to Get a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology?

Each college and university has its own specific admissions requirements. However, there are several common criteria that students must meet to gain admission to a bachelor’s degree program:

  • High school diploma or equivalent, such as a GED
  • A minimum high school GPA
  • A minimum score on a college entrance exam

These requirements will vary depending on the school. For example, a prestigious, private school like Columbia requires the following:

  • A completed college application and essay, including biographical information to include achievements, awards, activities, and employment experience
  • High school transcripts, including at least one letter of recommendation from a high school counselor
  • An acceptable score on the ACT or SAT
  • At least two teacher recommendations

State schools tend to have fewer and less stringent admissions requirements. For example, the University of Colorado examines the following when determining undergraduate admissions:

  • Grades in high school
  • Level of rigor of high school courses
  • Scores on the ACT or SAT
  • Personal essay
  • Letters of recommendation

Whether a student chooses a school that is large or small, public or private, or on campus or online, they must be able to demonstrate a track record of academic abilities, personal responsibility, and a desire to learn.

What Does it Take to Get a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology?

Getting a bachelor’s degree in psychology takes a lot of motivation to succeed and dedication to one’s studies. As students progress through the years of study required to obtain this degree, the level of difficulty of the coursework gradually increases. There might be more assignments for each class, and those assignments are usually more complex once students are in their junior or senior year.

Many psychology programs require a research component, so getting a degree in this field does require some knowledge and understanding of the scientific method and related science and research processes. A good understanding of math, especially statistics, is required as well. Although these science and math concepts are part of the coursework required for a degree in psychology, having a good understanding of them prior to starting a degree program is beneficial.

There is also a lot of writing in psychology, so having a sound understanding of grammar, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, and idea development is a plus. There are often public speaking requirements as well, so being comfortable speaking in front of classmates and professors is also beneficial.

Much like any other undergraduate program, successfully completing a bachelor’s degree in psychology takes time, patience, and effort. Students that are able to stay on top of their assignments, who study for exams, and who dedicate themselves to learning are the most likely to be successful.

What are the Advantages of a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology?

  • Bachelor’s degree programs in psychology are highly popular for a reason – they offer graduates a great deal of flexibility in terms of the type of work they do.
  • Bachelor’s degrees in psychology can be used in business and industry, education, law enforcement, and social services, to name just a few.
  • Bachelor’s degrees in psychology also open up more opportunities for work or educational advancement. Students that wish to pursue a master’s degree must first obtain a bachelor’s degree. The knowledge and skills they gain at the undergraduate level will serve them well in their graduate studies. Likewise, there are far more job opportunities available to graduates that have a bachelor’s degree in psychology than there are for graduates with only an associate’s degree.
  • Another advantage of bachelor’s degrees in psychology is that they are offered at virtually all four-year colleges and universities. And even if a local school doesn’t offer a bachelor’s degree program on campus, there are a number of excellent online programs that offer both B.A. and B.S. degrees in this field. As a result, it is relatively easy to find an appropriate degree program no matter where you live.
  • A final advantage of getting a bachelor’s degree in psychology is the advanced knowledge of oneself and others that results from studying human behavior. Students that study psychology often gain a lot of insight into why they think and do the things they do. Likewise, psychology students are better able to understand the behavior of others and develop skills that help them have improved relationships.

How Much Can You Make With a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology?

The salary you can make with an undergraduate degree in psychology varies widely. There are many factors that determine salary, including the specific area of study within psychology, the employment setting, and the geographic area in which one’s job is located.

Students that choose to focus on educational applications of psychology can expect to earn $38,300 right out of college. Starting salaries are slightly less for workers in scientific and technical applications of psychology, with starting salaries in the neighborhood of $36,000 to $37,000. However, students that concentrate on applying psychology to business stand to make more money. According to PayScale, workers with a B.A. in psychology that work in human resources stand to earn between $39,987 and $67,088 per year, as of August 2015.

The type of industry in which one is employed will determine salary as well. For example, PayScale notes that workers in the banking industry that have an undergraduate degree in psychology earn less than $50,000 per year, on average. However, workers with the same degree that work in aviation could make over $90,000 per year.

The geographic area in which one works will also impact salary. Workers in urban areas tend to make more money than those in rural areas. Although there are many factors that influence the relationship between geography and income, a large part of it is the cost of living associated with urban areas. It’s simply more expensive to live in cities, therefore wages tend to be higher.

For example, a worker with a bachelor’s degree in psychology who works in New York City can earn up to $78,833, depending on the type of employment setting. The potential income is even higher in San Francisco, where workers can earn as much as $84,519 per year.

What are the Opportunities for Advancement With a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology?

As discussed above, there are many career options available. Business, education, social services, and the criminal justice system are just a few industries that have many career opportunities for people with an undergraduate-level education in psychology.

Advancement in these career areas is certainly possible, so long as a worker is dedicated to a satisfactory job performance and committed to continuing their education and training. For example, someone that enters work in the area of human resources may begin in an entry-level position, such as human resources clerk, right out of college. But with several years of experience and some additional on-the-job training, a human resources worker may be able to advance to a more supervisory position that has more responsibilities and boasts a more generous income.

There are also opportunities to advance into other career areas. Because knowledge of psychology is an integral component of many industries, an undergraduate degree can serve as a springboard into other occupations. For example, a person with a bachelor’s degree in psychology would be well suited to working in the healthcare industry. With their level of education, a graduate could return to school and receive additional training to become a nurse without having to complete many of the general education and prerequisite requirements of a second degree. With classes like history, English, sociology, and other electives already completed, a nursing degree may be completed much more quickly.

However, advancement in the field of psychology itself would be difficult without further education. Counselors must have a master’s degree in order to be licensed to practice, while psychologists usually have to have a doctorate to be licensed. As a result, many bachelor’s level workers in psychology, social work, and other human services are generally in entry-level positions until they achieve a greater level of education.

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