Job Options with a Graduate Degree in Psychology
If you do decide to continue your education and earn a master's or doctorate degree in psychology, you'll find that job opportunities are much more plentiful. At the master's level, you can find work as a health psychologist, industrial-organizational psychologist, counselor, social worker, or sports psychologist. Earning a doctorate degree is the best way to increase your career options and earnings potential in any given specialty area. For example, while you may be able to start your career as an industrial-organizational psychologist with a master's degree, you will be able to command a much higher salary if you hold a PhD.
A doctorate degree is also necessary if you have an interest in teaching psychology at the university level. While there are some college or university teaching positions available to those with a master's degree, the market tends to be very saturated and competition is fierce. Psychologists working in university settings typically conduct research in addition to teaching classes each semester. If you are considering a future in academic psychology, focus on developing a strong specialty area during your undergraduate and graduate years. Because the competition for teaching and research jobs is so strong, establishing yourself as an expert in a particular area can give you a significant edge in the job market.
Salaries can vary dramatically based on your specialty area, geographic location, and educational background. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average salary for a counseling, clinical, and school psychologists in 2008 was $64,140 annually. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $39,000 a year while the highest 10 percent made more than $149,000 a year. While not common, some of highest paid psychologists can earn over six figures annually.
Of course, teaching at the college level is not the only option for people who earn a graduate degree in psychology. Many psychologists work in applied areas where they directly utilize their knowledge of the human mind and behavior to solve problems or improve people's lives. Clinical psychologists make up the largest employment area within psychology and work to assess and treat clients suffering from psychological distress. Some clinical psychologists work with a wide variety of people, while others specialize in working with a particular group (such as young children or the elderly) or in treating specific types of disorders (such as eating disorders, anxiety, or depression).
One applied specialty area that has garnered a tremendous amount of attention in recent years is known as forensic or criminal psychology. While popular books and television programs often depict forensic psychologists as super-sleuths who use their powers of psychological deduction to hunt down criminals, forensic psychologists actually perform a variety of different functions within the legal system. Some criminal psychologists actually do help investigators solve crimes, but this is not the norm. Many of the people working in this field are actually clinical psychologists, counselors, and school psychologists, but increasing numbers of universities are offering graduate programs specifically in forensic psychology. Typical job duties performed by forensic psychologists include assessing mental competence, investigating cases of suspected child abuse, performing child custody evaluations, and giving expert testimony in court.
While the reality of forensic psychology careers may not be quite as dramatic as it is depicted in the movies and on television, this is still an exciting and dynamic job area with lots of potential for future growth. In addition to having the opportunity to help other people, forensic psychologists have diverse career options and can choose to work in a variety of settings such as in the criminal courts, juvenile justice system, or as a private consultant.