Is there life after the B.A. for psychology majors?
What are you going to do with your psychology major?
This is a question you will be asked by friends, family (especially parents), and roommates countless times before you graduate. Soooo....what are you going to do--and what are you doing about it now?
Personalizing Your College Career
Psychology is a Liberal Arts program. The relative breadth of most Liberal Arts disciplines means that you need to put your special stamp on your undergraduate program if you want to have career choices later on. Unlike other undergraduate programs such as Nursing, Occupational Therapy, Social Work, and Civil Engineering, to name a few, most Liberal Arts programs do not train you to go into a certain field and perform a certain kind of work.
Why choose psychology as a major?
Many students choose Psychology as a major because they THINK they want to work in the field of psychology in particular. However, like many other Liberal Arts majors, only a small percentage of majors actually become trained as psychologists. How many history majors become historians--how many sociology majors become sociologists? The discipline of psychology is somewhat unique because there is widespread interest in psychology in everyday life. The theory and practice of psychology is more familiar to the general public than for many other liberal arts majors. We have spoken with many students who thought that a B.A. degree in psychology meant that you were now a "psychologist." But, as is the case for all professional fields such as law or medicine, it is assumed that those who practice psychology have advanced education and training at the master's or doctoral level.
Using Psychology in the Workplace
The principles of psychology are readily applied to virtually all work environments. It would be difficult to name a career that did not involve some aspect of psychology. Liberal Arts majors in general are applicable to a wide variety of career avenues in business and industry, government, education, and human services. Given this wide array of choices, the difficult question for psychology majors usually is--"how do I decide what I want to do?" Once a career path is chosen, a career preparation strategy is relatively easy to identify. What is really difficult for most students is deciding what YOU want to do with YOUR life.
What will you have in four years?
The four years you spend as an undergraduate are not intended as a convenient way to put off thinking about a career. You can and should be working on academics AND career preparation during your entire undergraduate career. At the end of four years you can be prepared for a wide range of career opportunities, depending on the choices you make along the way. Those choices may well include how you spend your time OUTSIDE of classes in addition to which courses you choose, and the effort you put into your courses. If you ignore the issue of career preparedness some of your experiences in college will be applicable to your eventual career and some won't be applicable. You may choose courses or other opportunities such as part-time jobs on the basis of less relevant factors such as convenience, what your roommate chooses, etc. If you attend to career preparedness, as an important goal, more of your experiences will be relevant to your eventual career because you will have made choices with a certain direction in mind. In any event, the majority of you WILL CHOOSE A CAREER AT SOME POINT. This major life choice is frequently based on these smaller semester-by-semester choices that are inevitably leading toward a certain set of career options whether you intend it or not.
What You Do Counts
This is not to suggest that you must have a career choice by the time you enter college. Exploring different options during your first year or two in college is perfectly acceptable--it's just as important to explore a variety of areas while you are making up your mind. Some students who do little or no career planning in college do fine in the end because they have lots of contacts, a great interviewing personality, and are known far and wide as bright and hard working. However, most students don't have business or professional contacts, or a job waiting for them when they graduate. Therefore MOST of you do need to do at least some DELIBERATE planning, some FOCUSING on a direction, some WORK toward your career if there is to be a choice!
"Working with People"
Many psychology majors report that they chose Psychology as a major because they want to "work with people." What does that really mean? It means nothing if you mean you don't want to work in solitary confinement. Most of us don't. It means everything if, for example, you mean you want to work in a human services setting delivering direct client services to people who are in psychological need. For the latter there are specific things that you can do to prepare for this type of work and there are even certain things that you can do to figure out if this work would be satisfying to you. You need to define a career area--not hope that one comes to mind eventually. If you are not actively involved in the definition you are likely to end up blaming others for your lack of success.
Specific Things You Can Do
At the end of each and every semester you should be able to account for the effort you have made toward your career choice in addition to the academic work you have accomplished. There are many ways to do this--set just a few goals for yourself each semester--by your senior year you will have accomplished a great deal toward career selection and preparation. Some suggestions are:
1. Be a frequent visitor at the Career Services Center and their website.
2. If you have work-study funding or if you just need to earn money while in school, use that opportunity wisely. Making sandwiches at the MUB might be good experience for a Hotel major but it will not add to your Liberal Arts credentials in an appreciable way. Check out the availability of research assistant jobs in psychology. Every year there are work-study jobs available and occasionally faculty have research grants that enable them to hire students who do not have work-study funding. If research experience does not interest you, you can check with a variety of student services offices on campus. Upward Bound, SHARPP (Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program), and the Child Study and Development Center to name a few, are all programs in which Psychology majors have gained valuable work experience.
3. Make a least one appointment that is devoted exclusively to career questions and exploration with an advisor in Psychology. It can be with the department's Academic Counselor if you have generalized interests or if you just want to explore different areas, or it can be with a professor whose area of specialization interests you.
We are here in your major department and in many student services offices on campus to provide information, to answer questions, to encourage and support. To help give you some ideas or a jumping off point to seek more information, here is a list of occupations from a survey of former UNH Psychology majors (some positions may require graduate training):
US Census Bureau Statistician
Battered Women's Advocate
Asst. Acct. Executive, Advertising Co.
Peer Support Coordinator
Grade School Teacher
Asst. Dir. of Day Care Center
Insurance:Research & Development Team
Case Management Worker
Manager Retail Store
Sales Marketing Coordinator
Certified Family Aid/Paraprofessional
Executive Dir. of a Group Home
Drug and Alcohol Counselor
Human Resource Development Specialist
Peace Corps Volunteer