Ultimate Guide to Psychology and Counseling Degrees and Careers

Guide to Psychology and Counseling Degrees and Careers

Admission Requirements for a Psychology and Counseling Degree

Bachelor’s Degree

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the American Psychological Association (APA) report that nearly two million bachelor’s degrees were conferred in 2016-2017. This data is the most recent published information reported by these two organizations. The APA reports that the fourth most popular major, based on the greatest number of degrees conferred, was psychology. Psychology majors earned 116,861 bachelor’s degrees during this year. Post-graduation surveys reveal that about three-quarters of all graduates in psychology end up working in a field related to psychology or counseling.

Successful admission to an accredited psychology bachelor’s degree program requires academic promise. To showcase your promise, you must offer a high school GPA of at least 2.5. More competitive psychology programs will have higher admission standards. In some cases, a minimum GPA of 3.0 or 3.3 is required for admission. Aptitude tests, such as the SAT or ACT, may also be required.

Master’s Degree

Most master’s-level psychology or counseling programs require an earned bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Many programs require an undergraduate degree in a related field, such as counseling or psychology, but this is not always the case. Some schools accept students with non-psychology degrees, but require prerequisites. Prerequisite courses may include developmental psychology, general psychology, research methods, and statistics. A strong GPA is necessary for any graduate program. Admission is often competitive. Being able to showcase your academic potential helps admission committees take notice of your application. A stellar undergraduate GPA, strong GRE scores, letters of recommendation, and writing samples will aid your application to a graduate psychology program. Top-ranked counseling or psychology programs may have GPA minimum requirements of 3.3 or 3.5.

Ph.D. or Doctoral Degree

Traditional Ph.D. in psychology programs are designed to equip students for careers in academia and research. These programs do not always require a graduate degree, as a master’s can be earned during completion of the Ph.D. However, these programs require an earned bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. The degree does not have to be in psychology, though some programs may require certain prerequisites to be considered for admission. To bolster a Ph.D. application, you must showcase your academic potential. Psychology and counseling programs require strong undergraduate GPAs, competitive GRE scores, letters of recommendation, writing samples, and a statement of purpose.

Doctoral degrees are applied degrees that equip students for careers in psychology or counseling. Instead of being research-heavy, as psychology Ph.D. programs are, emphasis in doctoral psychology degrees is placed on career readiness. Work experience is often part of the admission requirement, in addition to undergraduate GPA, letters of recommendation, and school transcripts.

In-Demand Psychology and Counseling Majors

In-demand jobs in psychology and counseling call for in-demand majors. If you’re deciding what major to choose, and have a desire to work in the psychology or counseling industries, the information below might help in your exploration. Below are several disciplines available at colleges and universities.

Guide to Psychology and Counseling Degrees and Careers

Counseling

Mental Health Counseling – To become a mental health counselor, rigorous schooling is required. At the undergraduate level, students interested in becoming mental health counselors select a major that is appropriate for their career path. Majors in psychology are among the most popular for those seeking this type of career, though some schools offer bachelor’s degrees in counseling. Graduate work consists of earning a master’s in counseling, completing research and fieldwork, and passing certification or licensing exams.

Rehabilitation Counseling – According to the U.S. Department of Education, there are many accredited colleges and universities that offer undergraduate rehabilitation counseling programs. While more common at the graduate level, bachelor’s degrees focus on general counseling, such as mental health or family, while offering specializations in rehab counseling. At the master’s level, accredited programs recognized by the Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE) exist. These programs are known to meet high academic standards. Courses cover topics like counseling theory & ethics, multicultural counseling, and psychosocial aspects of disabilities.

School Counseling – Bachelor’s degree programs for individuals aspiring to be school counselors focus on general psychology and counseling. The broad scope lessens in graduate school. In school counseling graduate programs, students hone their skills in career and school counseling. The programs emphasize how to foster academic development and work with parents and staff. Graduate programs also require students to complete an internship and thesis.

Substance Abuse Counseling – Most positions for substance abuse counselors require an earned bachelor’s degree in counseling, psychology, or a related discipline. Training in undergraduate programs offers broad knowledge of psychology and addiction counseling. Courses common at the bachelor’s degree level include abnormal psychology, addiction & substance use counseling theories, ethical & legal issues in counseling, and principles of addiction counseling. To be considered for a master’s degree program in substance abuse counseling, you will need a bachelor’s degree. Master’s programs focus less on foundational principles and more on direct clinical skills and evidence-based practice. Typical courses found in graduate substance abuse counseling programs include advanced developmental psychology, crisis & trauma counseling, and research & theories in addiction counseling.

Psychology

Developmental Psychology – Developmental psychology programs prepare students to work as developmental psychologists. The discipline focuses on how to aid individuals with developmental disorders across the lifespan. Curricula in bachelor’s degree programs emphasize the development of research skills. In fact, a research component and capstone are often required for most accredited bachelor’s in developmental psychology programs. The master’s in developmental psychology takes up to two years to complete and requires a master’s thesis, research, and fieldwork components. Courses cover topics like cognition & learning, cross-cultural psychology, language development, and moral education.

Environmental Psychology – Climate and environmental psychology programs are not as common as general psychology programs. This major focuses on the interaction between the environment and the public perception of it. Because it emerged in the 1970s, environmental psychology is considered to be a newer major in the field. Bachelor’s degree programs focus on policy, planning, and sustainability. The discipline is more common at the graduate degree level.

Guide to Psychology and Counseling Degrees and Careers

Forensic Psychology – The forensic psychology program at the undergraduate level prepares students to apply clinical, counseling, and neuropsychology skills to psychological services within the criminal justice system. As a forensic psychology student, you will take classes in criminal justice, criminology, psychology, sociology, and statistics. Graduate programs in forensic psychology delve deeper into advanced topics and prepare students for entry into the workplace as leaders in the field.

Industrial-Organizational Psychology – Students may pursue an undergraduate degree in industrial-organizational psychology or general psychology with a specialization or focus in industrial or organizational psychology. Both types of programs provide students with the basic knowledge and skills necessary to work in the field. Industrial and organizational psychology programs explore employee assessment, organizational behavior, and more. At the graduate school level, master’s degree programs have courses that explore more in-depth topics like consulting for organizational change, personnel psychology in the workplace, and psychology of organizational behavior.

Sports Psychology – Sports psychology is an interdisciplinary practice that links the physical performance of sport and athletics to psychology. Sports psychology degrees incorporate classes in biomechanics, kinesiology, nutrition, and physiology. In undergraduate programs, students may major in sports psychology or earn a specialization in this discipline while majoring in general psychology. In graduate programs, students typically earn a master’s degree in sports psychology with specialized knowledge in various areas.

Earnings Potential for Psychologists and Counselors

Psychologists

A stable income can be earned as a psychologist or counselor; however, wages vary by occupation and industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for psychologists, as of May 2020, was approximately $82,000. The median wage is the wage that 50% of the workers in the occupation earned more than and 50% earned less than. BLS collected data that revealed the bottom 10% earned less than $46,270, and the highest 10% earned over $137,590.

Wages vary by job type, industry, and geographic location. The median annual wage for general psychologists per BLS’ Occupational Outlook Handbook published within the last 12 months was $105,780. Industrial and organizational psychologists earned $96,270. Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists earned a median annual wage of $79,820.

Four industries are listed by BLS among the top-paying industries for psychologists. Government ranks #1 on this list. Those working in government agencies as psychologists earned a median annual wage of $100,360. Local, private, and state hospitals are the second highest-paying industry for psychologists. At hospitals, psychologists earn a median annual wage of $90,640, according to the most recent data published by BLS. Next in the lineup, ambulatory healthcare services are reported as paying psychologists a median annual wage of $85,970, and are among the top-paying industries for this occupation. The fourth highest-paying industry for psychologists, as reported by BLS, is made up of elementary and secondary schools at the local, private, and state level. In schools, psychologists earn a median annual wage of $77,560.

Earnings are also impacted by geographic location. According to the annual mean wage data published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are five top-paying states for psychologists. These states include:

California: $124,910
Alaska: $118,270
Illinois: $115,340
Virginia: $109,060
Colorado: $103,560

Broken down even further, BLS reports top-paying metropolitan areas for psychologists as Los Angeles, Sacramento, Jacksonville, Salinas, and Chicago. As far as top-paying nonmetropolitan areas for psychologists, BLS reports the Piedmont North Carolina as the highest paying region. In this nonmetro area, psychologists earn an annual median wage of $108,830.

Guide to Psychology and Counseling Degrees and Careers

Marriage and Family Counselors

According to BLS, marriage and family counselors or therapists earned a median annual wage of $51,340. The lowest 10% of earners in this occupation made $33,140, and the highest 10% earned over $92,500.

BLS also reports four top-paying industries for marriage and family counselors. State government, excluding education and hospitals, was the highest-paying industry for this profession. The most recent data reveals that the median annual wage for this area is $78,450. Outpatient care centers are the second highest-paying industry with median annual wages for counselors of $55,590. Individual and family services were the third highest-paying industry for marriage and family counselors. This industry reports average earnings of $47,590. The fourth highest-paying industry for this profession is offices of other health practitioners. In this industry, marriage and family counselors earned a median annual wage of $46,630.

Similar to earnings of psychologists, geographic location impacts wages for therapists. According to BLS, the five top-paying states for marriage and family therapists are Utah ($80,110), New Jersey ($78,960), Illinois ($67,650), Hawaii ($65,880), and Oklahoma ($65,050). Metropolitan areas with the highest earnings for this profession include Provo-Orem, Utah ($89,560 annual mean wage); St. George, Utah ($85,290); Vallejo-Fairfield, California ($81,890); Trenton, New Jersey ($80,270); and Sioux City, Iowa ($79,720).

Top-paying nonmetropolitan areas for marriage and family therapists include Southeast Oklahoma ($65,880), Southeast Iowa ($64,490), Southwest Colorado ($64,460), Central Indiana ($64,190), and Nevada nonmetro areas ($61,200).

Both psychologists and counselors typically work full-time. Some counselors and therapists occasionally work evenings and weekends, as needed, to accommodate client schedules.

Job Outlook

Counseling Occupations

The overall job outlook for counselors depends on the type of counseling work. According to BLS, employment for community and social service occupations, including all types of counselors, should see a 12% growth in jobs over the next nine years. Growth is much faster than the average for all occupations and adds about 348,600 jobs to the community service industry.

Genetic counselors are a unique type of counselor who assesses the risk for birth defects and genetic disorders impacting individuals or families. The overall job outlook for genetic counselors is highly favorable over the next 10 years. BLS reports that employment of genetic counselors should grow 21%. This growth rate is much faster than the average of all other occupations, but because the industry has few jobs and is considered to be a small occupation, the rapid growth will only add about 600 new jobs over the next decade. Also, BLS reports good job prospects for graduates of accredited genetic counseling programs who pass the board certification exam.

Marriage and family therapists should see employment growth of 22%, much faster than the average for all other occupations, according to BLS. The anticipated growth should add about 14,800 new jobs to the mix. Growth is expected due to increased awareness and integrated care. This means that general practitioners, or healthcare professionals treating patients, will integrate the treatment of multiple issues at once by including a group of these specialists. Qualified applicants with adequate education and training, as well as licensing and certifications, should see the best job prospects over the next several years.

Rehabilitation counselors should see employment growth of 10%, adding about 12,300 jobs to the industry. The demand is expected for this occupation due to an increase in the elderly population and continued need for rehab services among other groups of people, such as veterans and individuals with disabilities. Job prospects for qualified individuals should be favorable as the need to replace workers continues to increase.

School and career counselors also show a favorable job outlook. BLS reports employment for school and career counselors should increase by eight percent over the next nine years, adding close to 27,000 jobs to the industry. Rising student enrollments at elementary, middle, and high schools puts a demand on school counselors. With demand, more counselors will be needed. The demand for career and mental health counselors in colleges and universities is also on the rise. Job prospects are expected for qualified counselors. Individuals with graduate degrees, licensing, and experience should see the most favorable job prospects.

Guide to Psychology and Counseling Degrees and Careers

Psychology Occupations

A favorable job outlook for psychology occupations is expected over the next eight years, according to BLS. Current data suggests a three percent overall employment growth for psychologists, which is almost as fast as the average growth for all occupations. However, employment growth will vary by occupation.

Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists should see favorable job growth over the next decade as demand for psychological services increases. Psychological services for the aging population, veterans, and survivors of trauma will also increase, causing a demand for more specialists. In schools, employment of school psychologists will be needed due to increased awareness of the connection between learning and mental health. School psychologists will be necessary to work with student populations with special needs, such as autism, behavioral issues, learning disabilities, and other challenges that impact learning. Schools will also rely on psychologists to assess and counsel students in preparation for college readiness and aptitude exams.

Businesses and organizations will continue to hire industrial and organizational psychologists to help increase efficiency and productivity within the workplace. These highly specialized psychologists will be needed to boost morale in an organization and improve overall efforts. Those in this specialty should see favorable job prospects over the next several years.

Competition for psychologist jobs will vary by specialty. However, to improve job prospects, a graduate degree and credentials are useful. Applicants with specialized degrees–master’s and doctoral degrees–and postdoctoral research and experience will have the best job opportunities in areas like clinical and school psychology. Favorable job prospects will also be seen for those specializing in working with the elderly population and in rehabilitation psychology.

Overall, employment projections for psychologists, as published by BLS, are that there will be an additional 5,700 psychology jobs over the next nine years. The bulk of these jobs will be added to clinical, counseling, and school psychology industries.

Other Qualities Necessary for Psychologists and Counselors

Beyond education, there are important qualities an individual must possess to successfully work as a psychologist or counselor. Below are several qualities one should have when working as closely with patients as is required of psychologists and counselors.

Analytical skills
Psychologists examine information they have collected. From there, they draw logical conclusions based on their findings. To effectively address issues and create treatment plans, analytical skills are important.

Communication skills
Counselors, psychologists, and therapists spend their day expressing ideas and information in a manner that the client can easily understand and apply. Being able to effectively communicate with clients makes the job easier. Strong communication skills and good listening skills help professionals gather and share information. In the field of psychology, communication skills are critical when addressing research. A psychologist must be able to synthesize and relay important information.

Compassion
Mental health counselors and psychologists must be compassionate by nature. Patients often face difficult situations that require understanding and empathy. Having an empathetic, compassionate nature helps counselors and therapists gain trust. By building trust with clients, treatment is often made more effective.

Observational skills
Whether you’re working as a psychologist or counselor, behavior and attitude are being assessed when evaluating patients. Professionals must observe actions, body positions, facial expressions, interactions, and other mannerisms that prove meaningful to assessment and treatment. Having strong observational skills helps a counselor or psychologist draw conclusions and set up an accurate treatment plan.

Patience
While having patience is necessary for any occupation, it is an especially important quality for counselors, psychologists, and therapists. These specialized professionals must be able to remain calm during stressful engagements. At times, clients may be angry or distressed. It is important to offer a stable and calm demeanor that diffuses situations. Patience is necessary for counselors and psychologists working with behavioral disorders, mental health issues, substance abuse, and addictions.

Strong listening skills
Listening skills are critical in the profession of a psychologist or counselor. In fact, when treating patients, most of the time is spent listening. Counselors must offer their full attention to a client and be able to understand and address that client’s issues and challenges. Psychologists and counselors, especially those working in mental health or substance abuse, need strong listening skills.

Related:

30 Best Bachelor’s in Psychology Degrees Online: Small Colleges
30 Best Online Bachelor’s in Psychology Programs at Private Colleges
30 Best Affordable Online Bachelor’s in Psychology Degrees from Private Colleges
5 Career Options with a Bachelor’s in Psychology
Where Can I Use My Psychology Degree in the Legal System?
What are the Fastest Growing Fields in Psychology?

This concludes our article providing information about psychology and counseling degrees and careers.

Brenda Rufener
Author

Julie McCaulley
Expert

Carrie Sealey-Morris
Editor-in-Chief