Students interested in psychology school training typically select from one of the following six degrees when choosing a course of study: a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in psychology; a Bachelor of Science (BS) in psychology; a Bachelor of Science (BS) in psychology, comprehensive option; a Bachelor of Science (BS) in psychobiology; a Bachelor of Arts in education with a 7-12 teaching subject endorsement option in psychology; or a Bachelor of Science in education with a 7-12 teaching subject endorsement option in psychology.
Although no one degree is considered “better” than any other in terms of merit or content covered, one degree may be a better fit for a candidate than others, depending on a student’s skills, interests, and potential career paths. A Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology is a basic, comprehensive, liberal arts degree that lets a student learn about a broad range of academic subjects and prepare for a number of career fields, while still focusing her studies on psychology.
- A Bachelor of Science degree in psychology is a basic, comprehensive degree for students interested in pursuing careers in the social sciences, research, and scientific communities.
- A Bachelor of Science in psychology with the comprehensive option is a less-common degree. It includes mandatory philosophy and history of psychology components in addition to the standard coursework required for a typical BS in psychology.
- A Bachelor of Science degree in psychobiology is a specialized scientific degree for students interested in physical sciences, research, and medical careers.
- Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees in education with a 7-12 teaching subject endorsement option in psychology are teaching degrees that prepare students for careers in education with a specialized focus on psychology.
Depending on the student’s interest in the content area and plans for using the degree, different degrees will prove to be more and less helpful, and more and less versatile.
Depending on the course of study students interested in psychology pursue, completing the degree will take somewhere between four and ten years.
Generally, full-time students taking a full course load of four to five classes per semester will earn their Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degrees in four years, or eight semesters. Students opting to attain their Associate Degree prior to enrolling in a Bachelor Degree program, or those transferring from one undergraduate program to another, including online programs, often find that the length of time necessary to complete their studies increases, as some credits will not transfer from one institution to another, necessitating the student to take additional coursework that is sometimes redundant. Conversely, students can sometimes expedite their time in undergraduate programs by placing out of required credits for their degree with the help of AP classes taken in high school, or by achieving passing grades on numerous subject tests through the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP), when such is accepted by their school. In addition, some institutions offer students the option of taking summer classes or expedited classes during their winter or spring breaks, which can also help to speed up the process and put a degree in a student’s hands more quickly than by following the traditional curriculum route.
- Full-time students taking a full course load will typically earn their Master of Science degree in psychology in between two and three years. Some schools may expedite this for students by allowing them to participate in a five-year program that combines their undergraduate and graduate course work, knocking an entire year off their overall studies. Such a program can have great financial benefits, but it may require a separate application and separate acceptance into the accelerated program.
- Likewise, students may find that completing the practicum, laboratory, or research requirements of their Master of Science degree in psychology actually requires them to slow the pace of their academic coursework to get the most out of both educational experiences.
- Part-time students earning their Master of Science in psychology may take as long as four or five years to complete the degree, depending on the number of courses they’re able to maintain each semester.
Students pursuing their doctoral degrees in psychology will require two to four years of study, research, and writing, and should expect to spend an additional one to two years completing their post-doctoral residency. Factoring in completion of the required dissertation, these programs usually take longer to complete than most students initially expect. Altogether, a full-time PhD candidate in psychology can expect to complete her coursework, residency, and dissertation in between three and eight years. This is in addition to previous undergraduate and graduate course work.
Although each psychology school is different and each student’s educational plan may deviate slightly from these normative time frames, a safe bet for any student is to expect to devote at least four years to earning a Bachelor of Science in psychology; at least two to three years earning a Master of Science in psychology; and at least four to five years completing a PhD in psychology. For working people looking to change careers, and any others who might find traditional programs too much of a burden, online psychology programs are excellent options.
Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology
Bachelor of Arts (BA) degrees in psychology at most schools fall under a general liberal arts education and focus on developing a student’s humanities education while focusing on psychology. Students holding these degrees are often interested in careers that are informed by, but not necessarily directly governed by psychology. For example, many students with BAs in psychology go on to work in human resources, marketing, education, or the legal or medical fields. They also may consider, having had a broad humanities and social science base as an undergrad, pursuing a graduate degree in psychology, where they’ll increase their knowledge and experience in the scientific aspects of psychology.
Psychology students may find that, though they’re interested in the field of psychology, they aren’t necessarily interested in practicing it as a specialty. By receiving a BA, they gain valuable insight from the field of psychology but also make themselves more suited for fields outside the social sciences, and gain insight and interest in a wider range of disciplines than their peers who are more specialized in the science of psychology. These are also attractive degrees for students interested in pursuing other studies in the humanities, such as foreign language, history, English, and so forth, as these classes will likely count toward their mandatory degree credit for a BA, whereas they would not for most of the BS degrees available.
For students interested in psychology but not sure that they want to devote their life to its calling, a BA in psychology can be a great way to gain exposure to the field while still gaining experience in and preparing for careers in other disciplines.
Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology
Generally, Bachelor of Science degrees in psychology are for students interested in studying psychology in order to go on to practice as psychologists. Unlike their counterparts who pursue Bachelor of Arts degrees in psychology, students interested in BS degrees in psychology are often quite sure they want to practice in the field and want to expedite their path to building a career, specifically in the social sciences.
Bachelor of Science degrees, as their name implies, focus extensively on the scientific component of psychology, and require a great deal more math and science for their completion. They frequently require a higher number of credits in applied science and college-level math, particularly courses such as biology, anatomy, and neurology. They may require fewer “general education” classes like history, English, and foreign languages than a Bachelor of Arts degree in the same discipline would. In addition, most Bachelor of Science degrees in psychology require laboratory time, and frequently focus on preparing students to go on to entry level careers in research, behavioral, and mental health positions, rather than in application-based careers such as marketing or human resources.
Students may find that a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology is a more helpful degree to hold when seeking careers in research laboratories or direct-application careers like counselors and practitioners.
Psychology Comprehensive Option, Bachelor of Science Degree
Although it is offered at few schools, the psychology comprehensive option for a Bachelor of Science degree is very similar to a typical Bachelor of Science degree in psychology. When it is offered, it is usually offered as an option along with the other degrees in psychology.
To receive a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology, comprehensive option, students must complete their general-education requirements, similar to those of any other Bachelor of Science degree in psychology candidate. They must take the math and science requirements put forth for all Bachelor of Science students, and specialize within the field of psychology. In addition to the general social science courses required for psychology such as statistics, research methodology, introduction to psychology, abnormal psychology, and the like, students hoping to achieve a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology, comprehensive option must also study the history of psychology and take at least one other course from the philosophy department, understanding the more interdisciplinary nature of psychology as an academic field.
This degree requires more intense math and science requirements than a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology, and will require laboratory and clinical practice, similar to a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology. What sets it apart in the few schools that offer it is the requirement of a general understanding of the framework of psychology in relation to the history of the discipline and its relationship to philosophy.
Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychobiology
Also known as a Bachelor of Science degree in neuroscience, Bachelor of Science degrees in psychobiology are highly clinical degrees that focus on the anatomy and physiology of the brain, with a focus on how anatomy affects cognition, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Unlike Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees in psychology, Bachelor of Science degrees in psychobiology are for students interested in pursuing careers in the medical or medical research fields.
- Students interested in psychology who want to learn about how the brain develops, works, and functions may be drawn to this major.
- An integrative discipline, neurobiology, or psychobiology, is a field that relies on principles and basics from a variety of academic fields, including the main applied sciences (biology, chemistry, and physics), as well as mathematics, psychology, anatomy, kinetics, and sometimes even computer science (an emerging specialization within the field of neurobiology).
Unlike their peers who hold BAs and BSs in psychology, students graduating with Bachelor of Science degrees in psychobiology frequently go on to careers in medical research and sports psychology, or pursue graduate-level study of psychology, biology, anatomy, or medicine. Typically, such a specialized degree is perfect for students who want to specialize within the field. This degree frequently gives its recipients an advantage over their more generalized peers, but because of its specialization, the degree is far less versatile and flexible later in life if the recipient opts to change career interests or fields. Because of this, it’s a best fit for those who are highly confident that they want to continue their careers within the neurosciences.
Psychology 7-12 Teaching Subject Endorsement Option, Bachelor of Arts in Education Degree
Students interested in the field of psychology but also interested in teaching or careers in education may be interested in pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in education degree, with a grade 7-12 teaching subject endorsement in psychology.
This degree enables its recipients to study a general education curriculum, including classroom hours, practicum, and student teaching. In addition, some programs provide certification and licensing for their graduates as well, enabling them to teach in their area of specialization as soon as they complete their degree.
Students opting for a Bachelor of Arts in education degree with a 7-12 teaching subject endorsement in psychology typically wish not only to pursue the study of psychology, but to relate that information to others as well. Unlike their peers earning BAs or BSs in psychology, neurology, or psychobiology, these students want to learn the fundamentals of psychology, but also master the basic principles of teaching and education. Typically, they’ll have fewer humanities credits than their counterparts earning BAs in psychology, and fewer math, science, and laboratory classes than their peers pursuing BSs in psychology, neurobiology, and psychobiology. Instead, they’ll be taking a standard education curriculum focused on lesson planning, behavior modification, curriculum planning, and general education philosophy and applications.
However, unlike a general BA in education, this degree allows its recipients to specialize within the field of psychology and become certified to teach psychology to students in middle school or high school (grades 7-12). This is a perfect degree for students who wish to be teachers, but also wish to expand their knowledge of psychology or go on to graduate school.
Psychology 7-12 Teaching Subject Endorsement Option, Bachelor of Science in Education Degree
Students interested in attending grad school, but also considering their options for teaching, may consider pursuing a Bachelor of Science in education degree with a 7-12 teaching subject endorsement in psychology.
This degree allows its recipients to pursue a career in the educational field, but also to specialize within the field of psychology, both in their studies and in their teaching careers. Unlike their peers earning BAs in psychology, these students will focus their studies on the clinical and scientific side of psychology instead of the humanities, while also learning the basic principles and fundamentals of teaching and education.
This degree enables its recipients to study a general curriculum for teaching and education, including classroom hours, practicum and student teaching, and in some cases, even earn their certification and licenses upon degree completion. In addition to their education classes, students take a number of courses in psychology, eventually enabling them to specialize in and teach psychology to other students. Typically, they’ll have fewer humanities credits than their counterparts earning BAs in psychology or education, and fewer math, science, and laboratory classes than their peers pursuing BSs in psychology, neurobiology and psychobiology. Instead, they’ll be taking a standard education curriculum focused on lesson planning, behavior modification, curriculum planning, and general education philosophy and applications.
This degree is a versatile one, as it allows students a chance to focus on the fundamentals of psychology from a clinical and scientific standpoint, but also prepares them for a career in education and teaching. In many cases, students will be certified to teach psychology to middle-school and high-school students (grades 7-12) by the time they earn their diplomas. This is a perfect degree for students who wish to be teachers, but also wish to expand their knowledge of the more scientific and clinical aspects of psychology or to go on to grad school.
Although each school varies in terms of actual credit requirements and the distribution of those credits required for individual majors, most four-year degree programs in psychology require students to complete 120 credits overall to receive their undergraduate degree. Within those credits, students are expected to take a general humanities or science education classes (depending on whether they’re pursuing a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree in psychology) that will include at least a few introductory level classes from departments like English, history, social sciences, foreign languages, mathematics, and applied sciences.
Most psychology majors are expected to declare their intent to major in psychology during their second year of studies, and at that point take at least one to two classes per semester, if not more, from the psychology department’s curriculum. Some of the classes from the psychology department curriculum that may be required or that students may choose to take include some type of statistics class, at least one research and methodology class, and a wide variety of classes within the field of psychology. There are hundreds of classes to choose from among the thousands of psychology programs available to students, but some of the most popular classes for psychology students are philosophy of psychology; early childhood development; nature, nurture, and human development; social psychology; abnormal psychology; cognition; social and affective neuroscience; forensic psychology; psycho linguistic studies; and political psychology.
Students in psychology programs are expected to attend class regularly, complete the assigned reading, and turn in required assignments. Many classes encourage group work, and require students to perform observation or practicum hours in addition to their classroom studies. In some cases, laboratory work is also required. Different schools set different minimum grade point averages for completion of psychology degrees.
For students attending school full-time, four to five classes are typical for each semester. Class meetings vary, with some classes meeting three times a week for about an hour, others meeting twice a week for an hour and a half each, and others meeting once a week for three hours. Typically each class receives three credit hours, which means students should prepare to spend three hours of classroom time on it per week. The homework for each class will also vary, but a good rule of thumb is to expect at least one hour of homework each week for every hour the class meets. So a three-hour class would require six hours of work each week (three hours in-class participation, three hours reading, research, and out-of-class preparation). Some classes will require extensive reading, research, and writing and others will be much more hands on and require more in-class participation and lab reports than essays. Final exams are typically a combination of multiple-choice and essay questions, and are generally to be expected for most classes.
One of the best ways for students to learn about life in psychology school is to research individual schools to find out what their curriculum is like and to learn more about their professors and student body, and then arrange to visit the school. If possible, arrange a meeting with a professor in the psychology department to find out if the curriculum is a good fit for your interests and career goals. Find out what the requirements are, and see if it seems like a good option for your education. Another great place to visit is the admissions and financial aid offices, which can help you decide if the school is a realistic choice for you in terms of acceptance and affordability, and if there’s anything you can do ahead of time to increase your chances of admission.
If the school is out of the area, it is often a good idea to arrange a multi-day, overnight trip so that you can get a real feel for the culture of the campus in addition to the curriculum taught and the classroom atmosphere. For younger students planning to live away from home for the first time, many colleges and universities offer prospective students a chance to “shadow” or be paired with a current student for a 24-48 hour period to go to class with those students and experience the social scene at the institution. These opportunities are great for learning more about the “real” feel of the school, and can provide a valuable insight into what everyday life at that institution will be like.