Psychology Degree Introduction

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Psychology is one of the more fascinating social sciences to study. Psychology is the study of the mind and the study of behavior. It's the science that helps explain what makes people and even animals tick. Many people associate the study of psychology with famed psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, but psychology is much more than just studying the unconscious mind. The field studies emotions, relationships, biology of the brain, personality, behavior, cognition, and perception.

Students who pursue a psychology degree may work in academia conducting research on new theories to better understand the root causes of different behaviors, or they may work as a psychologist helping people deal with their underlying issues. A career in this field can be very rewarding since psychologists frequently help individuals deal with their issues and live a more fulfilling life.

The word psychology comes from the Greek word psyche. Although Plato and Socrates may have dabbled a bit in the field, the actual study of psychology did not come into existence until the late 1800s.

At that time, Wilhelm Wundt began studying introspection and other forms of experimental psychology. He is considered the "father of psychology." Today, psychology is used by businesses to better understand potential customers, by schools to help children learn more efficiently, and by therapists to help patients come to terms with certain issues in their lives.

If you decide to pursue psychology degrees, biology classes will be a requirement. Before you can begin studying the causes of certain behaviors, you must understand the basic structure of the brain. Many of the more popular theories assume brain functions and chemicals interact to produce certain actions. You will become an expert in neurotransmitters and understand how they affect memory, sleep, pain, and mental activity. You will learn there really is a right brain-left brain function and how it impacts the decisions people make.

Students earning a psychology degree will learn how to conduct research studies that lead to reliable outcomes. Many of today's psychological breakthroughs occur during research. Researchers may choose a variety of methods to study an issue, but they must always be mindful to keep experimenter's bias and selection bias out of their research. Plus, researchers must understand how the placebo effect can skew results. Researchers may use human subjects or animal subjects for their experiments. A high standard of ethics must always be maintained during research.

The term psychology is used to define a very broad field. Students pursuing a psychology degree may decide to focus on one area of study. If they are interested in understanding the subconscious, students may focus their studies on psychoanalysis. If they are interested in theories showing the correlation between behavior and a person's thoughts, feelings, or beliefs, students may choose to study cognitive psychology. Other popular psychology fields include behavioral, biological, and humanistic.

Counseling

Today, a variety of industries and organizations use psychologists. Students who earn a psychology degree can work directly with patients, companies, schools and even the government. When people hear the world psychologist, they envision someone sitting on a couch talking to a therapist about their personal issues. Those individuals are clinical psychologists. But, they are not the only types of psychologists. A person with a psychology degree may consider working as an industrial psychologist to work with companies to help design measures to improve the work environment, develop skills analysis to make sure workers are matched with the correct job, and even help design a screening process for job applicants. Schools also have psychologists who work with students and teachers to make the learning environment more productive. Even sports teams hire psychologists to ensure players are performing at their peak.

Earning an online psychology degree can lead to a very rewarding career. You may be involved in research projects leading to a huge breakthrough, or you may be a clinical psychologist listening and helping a person come to terms with a problem. But, most psychologists will tell you the biggest benefit of this career is the ability to help people achieve a more productive, fulfilling life.

Psychology Degree Preparation

Earning a psychology degrees can be a big decision. Regardless of which psychology career path you take, you will need to earn at least a bachelor's degree and possibly a master's degree. Then plan on additional schooling plus a residency program to become a doctor.

It is never too early to start preparing to become a psychologist. In fact, you should start preparing as early as high school. Take science classes like biology, chemistry, and physics. Make sure that you enjoy studying the science aspects as much as the psychology one. When you have the opportunity to choose electives, choose ones relevant to your future degree. Pick electives like history, philosophy, and sociology. Of course, you will need to earn the best grades possible in each of the classes you take.

You may even want to interview a local psychologist to get a better understanding of what she does. Ask her about the college she attended and the classes she took. Talk about potential career paths in the field. Discuss the pros and cons of being a therapist.

Make a list of colleges or universities from which you might want to earn your psychology degree. When looking at schools, examine their undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Many high- paying psychology jobs will require you to earn both a bachelor's and a master's degree. You may want to consider attending the same school to earn both degrees. Also take a look at the school's research programs and the faculty's body of work.

While earning a psychology degree, try to get involved in some of the psychology research projects conducted on campus. You will gain valuable knowledge and experience that will help you in your career. Consider applying for an internship to gain valuable on-the-job experience.

Make plans to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), the graduate entrance exam that most colleges or universities require. Consider taking this during the end of your junior year or the beginning of your senior year while earning your bachelor's degree. GRE scores are valid for 5 years. That way, if you decide to gain some work experience before pursuing your graduate degree, you will not have to take the test again.

Decide if you want to pursue a doctorate degree in psychology. You will need this type of degree if you want to treat patients. Learn about the residency and internship requirements. You will also need to be licensed to practice, and each state will have slightly different requirements.

High School

High school lays the groundwork for one's future career. You will need to work hard in high school earning good grades and taking classes that will help you in college. High school is not the time to be lackadaisical about studying. If you do well in high school, you have a greater chance of being accepted into the college of your choice.

If you are thinking about pursuing a psychology degree in college, make sure to take relevant classes in high school. There are basic classes everyone is required to take, and then there are the electives you choose. Don't take the easy electives. Pick challenging electives that will allow you to gain more knowledge about psychology. Colleges to which you apply will look at the electives you have chosen to see if you are serious about pursuing a psychology degree.

Basic classes you should take include biology, chemistry, physics, and several math classes. Biology and chemistry play a huge role in psychology. In fact, in order to understand someone's behavior, you must understand their brain functioning. Many popular psychological theories assume that the brain, neurotransmitters, and brain chemicals interact together to generate a certain behavior.

Take all the psychology and behavior classes your high school offers. These basic courses will be very helpful with those introductory psychology classes you will be required to take in college. The history of psychology dates back to the days of Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato. Try also to pick some humanities-oriented electives. Classes in world history, literature, and philosophy will teach you about human behavior over time. Consider classes in sociology and religion to see how psychology has helped shape societies.

Regardless of which classes you take in high school, make sure to maintain your grades. Colleges examine an applicant's grades when considering his application. Those students with higher grades will have a better chance of being accepted than those with lower grades. Try to earn an A or B in every class you take. If you find yourself struggling with a class, do not be ashamed to ask for help. You don't want to fall behind. There is plenty of help available to help you succeed.

You will need to take either the SAT or ACT during your junior or senior year. These college entrance exams are required for most college applications. The good news – you do not need to take both tests. The SAT tests your critical thinking and problem solving skills. The ACT tests your reasoning abilities. Decide on which test you would perform better and begin studying. You want to earn the highest score possible. Each college has a different minimum test score it will accept for admission purposes.

During your junior year, you should start looking at a variety of colleges or universities that you may want to attend. Don't pick a school just because your best friend wants to go there. Do your research. If you want to earn a psychology degree, research the top programs around the country. Look at the undergraduate and graduate programs the schools offer. Examine the faculties' bodies of work, along with research studies in which the school is involved. Also, consider the career path you want to take and make sure the school offers a strong program that will help you achieve that goal. Make sure you understand the college application process –the application deadline, what GPA is required, and what college entrance exam scores are accepted.

If you want to understand what a psychologist does, why not interview a psychologist in your area? This is a great way to get a better understanding of what your future career may look like. Ask him about the college he attended and which classes you should consider taking. Talk about potential career paths and the pros and cons of each. Discuss the benefits and challenges of being a psychologist.

College

Deciding to major in psychology means that you will need to commit yourself to years of formal education. Most jobs in this field will require a bachelor's and a master's degree.

Your first step towards a successful career in psychology will be to earn a bachelor's degree. This 4-year degree will lay the foundation and allow you the opportunity to focus on specialized areas in the field of psychology. Students typically take courses on motivation, sensory processes, perception, learning, personality, and research. Many people will take classes that focus on specific types of psychology: experimental, industrial, applied, environmental, or social. Try to imagine where you see your career in 10 years. Talk with your professors or student advisors to discuss your career goals. They can help you pick courses that will fit your goals.

As you are pursing your undergraduate psychology degree, see if you can participate in research projects on campus. Many college campuses engage in research projects. These projects may use human or animal subjects. You may be able to work as a research assistant, or you may just be a subject of an experiment. Either way you will gain valuable knowledge that will help you in your studies. Plus, you will gain experience to put on your resume.

Join your college's psychology club. Excel in college so you will be invited to join Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology. These clubs will host events including seminars, lectures, and job fairs. You will be able to connect with people in the local community with ties to psychology. Possible internships and even jobs may be found there.

Once you complete your undergraduate psychology degree, you may decide to join the workforce to gain some on-the-job experience. People with a bachelor's degree in psychology may seek positions as counselors, research assistants, or laboratory assistants. These positions can be found in hospitals, government, and businesses.

The majority of high-paying psychology jobs with career advancement opportunities will require you to hold a master's degree. Many schools will offer both an undergraduate and graduate degree in psychology. However, some colleges will not allow you to just earn a master's degree in psychology because they require you to commit to the Ph.D. program. When considering graduate school, decide on your career goals. Do you want to become a doctor or a researcher? These decisions will influence the schools to which you apply.

Each graduate school will have different admission standards. Most schools will require a specific GPA, GRE, and MAT test scores. Schools will consider your undergraduate GPA, specifically during the last two years of study. During these two years, you focused nearly exclusively on psychology courses. These grades show a college you are able to excel in the field. You will also be required to take the GRE or MAT. The GRE and MAT are college entrance exams similar to the SAT and ACT. Consider taking these while earning your undergraduate degree during your junior or senior years. This way the knowledge is fresh and your test-taking abilities are as good as they will most likely ever be. Your GRE or MAT scores will be valid for five years.

The type of master's program to which you apply will impact admission requirements. You may not want to earn a doctorate, just a master's degree. These programs are referred to as terminal master's degree programs. There are also programs that require you to earn a master's and a Ph.D. Some schools may require you to have experience as a research or laboratory assistant. Competition to these programs can be steep, with only a few spots open each year. In fact, some colleges who have this requirement recommend you apply to a minimum of 10 schools. You may also be required to provide letters of recommendation.

As you earn your graduate degree, continue to gain experience in the field by working on research projects both on and off campus and making connections through local psychology clubs or organizations. The knowledge and experience you gain will increase your chances of having a satisfying and successful career.

Ph.D or Psy.D

Once you earn your undergraduate psychology degree, you will most likely attend graduate school. At that time, you will need to consider whether you want to pursue a doctoral psychology degree. There are two types of doctoral psychology degrees you can earn: a Ph.D and a Psy.D. You will need to decide the career path you want to pursue to decide which type of degree to earn.

If you choose to earn a Ph.D in psychology, the coursework will be geared towards researching the theoretical. The majority of students who earn a doctoral psychology degree choose to pursue a Ph.D. Students who earn a Ph.D can find work as a researcher at institutions around the world, land a coveted faculty position at some of the top universities, or open their own practice.

Earning a Psy.D was virtually unheard of until the late 1960s, and it was not until 1973 that the American Psychological Association accepted this degree. Today, the degree is gaining more popularity among psychology students. Unlike the Ph.D, the Psy.D focuses heavily on theories that can immediately be applied in a clinical setting. Many experts in the field feel that a Psy.D is more desirable than a Ph.D for those who want to practice in a clinical setting. A large portion of students who earn a Psy.D will set up their own private practices. It will be more difficult to land a position as a researcher or a teaching position with a Psy.D since these types of positions deal more with the theoretical and are research-oriented, which lend themselves more to those holding a Ph.D degree.

Students will also need to decide if they want to practice clinical psychology, counseling psychology, or both. Clinical psychology is most often associated with mental health disorders. Those working in the clinical field may be engaged in research, treatment, teaching, or consultation. Psychoanalysis and psychotherapy are popular methods used in the clinical setting. Many clinical psychologists will be specialists, focusing on one specific area like schizophrenia. Counseling psychology typically does not deal with mental health disorders. This type of psychology deals with more "normal" problems and the conscious mind. Counseling psychologists may be considered generalists because they are trained in a wide variety of treatment courses. Positions for clinical and counseling psychology can be found in clinics, private practices, schools, businesses, and even the government.

You can choose to earn your doctoral degree from a university or a professional graduate school like the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Universities typically offer a variety of doctoral degree programs. These programs concentrate heavily on coursework and less on field work. Competition can be stiff. Many schools have less than twenty openings a semester for these programs. Earning your degree from a professional graduate school will provide you with more real world experience. These programs incorporate field work with coursework, making courses more relevant. You are actually applying the concepts you just learned in the field. The downside – these programs can be quite expensive. There is no right or wrong way to earn the degree. You will need to determine your career objectives and pick the program that works best for you.

Once you have passed your exams and have received approval for your dissertation, it is time to think about an internship program. The American Psychological Association provides a listing by state of organizations or institutions offering internship programs. All of these programs are accredited, which means they are legitimate opportunities that will allow you to use your knowledge and skills gained during your education. These internships are typically full-time and last about one year. Some schools will require internships or completion of a residency program in order to earn your degree.

Once you have finished your doctoral degree and completed an internship, you are ready to go out into the world and start practicing, right? Wrong. You must be licensed in the state you practice. But, there is no national license standard. Each state has different requirements. The Association of State & Provincial Psychology Board maintains a website that lists each state's license requirements.

Last Updated: 04/07/2014

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