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Is Psychology a Hard Major?

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I’m going to explain to you why psychology is unexceptional as a major in terms of difficulty level. But I will also outline why, if you want to become a psychologist, you should think of it as a challenging STEM degree that demands exceptional dedication and effort.

Just getting a psychology degree isn’t especially hard. It’s a popular field of study that students of many different abilities can complete.

But what will you do with that degree? If you want to eventually see clients as a licensed psychologist, you need to achieve high grades and do advanced STEM-based studies later on. The major does require strong academic performance if you see it as a foundation for a career in the field.

Overview of a Psychology Degree

In a psychology major, students explore the workings of the human mind and its influence on behavior. They start with foundational courses in general psychology, research methods, and statistics. As the program progresses, they explore areas like cognition, development, social interactions, and the biology of behavior. The curriculum blends theory with practical application, preparing students to apply their knowledge in real-world situations.

A Bachelor’s degree in psychology typically spans four years. However, in some countries outside the U.S., students can complete the university degree in three years, with an additional honors year available for high-achieving students.

The degree includes foundational courses and core psychology subjects that cover areas such as research methods, theories of personality, and child psychology. Lab courses give students hands-on experience in conducting research and analyzing data. Students require a combination of research, writing, scientific, observational, and statistical skills.

Why Undergraduate Studies Are Relatively Easy

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At the bachelor-degree level, psychology is one of the easier majors. Universities and colleges don’t make these programs very difficult. This is because the purpose of undergraduate psychology studies is not to achieve mastery of the discipline.

Undergraduate psychology classes are popular and filled mainly with students who will never go on to study clinical psychology. For example, a UK graduate survey found that only 13.3% of Psychology graduates were doing further study 15 months later. The students who didn’t go on to postgraduate study likely fell into two groups: (1) those who planned to use their education to complement a different career; and (2) students who underestimated how hard it is to become a psychologist.

What this all means is that a Bachelor of Psychology or similar degree is designed with a view to provide a general education and build transferable skills for a range of careers. The difficulty level is similar to other generalist majors such as business and social sciences. Majors that are more focused in preparing students for specific, demanding careers, such as engineering, law, and medicine, are harder.

Jobs You Can Do With a Psychology Major

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A psychology degree offers students solid skills in research, analysis, and report-writing. Through their studies, students learn how to gather information, think critically, and communicate their findings effectively.

With this foundation, graduates can find roles in areas such as human resources, market research, mental health support, user experience research, case management, public relations, victim advocacy, and corporate training. These jobs value the ability of psychology majors to understand and interpret data, as well as their presumed ability to deal with people.

In the broader job market, the skills and knowledge gained from psychology degrees make graduates versatile. Many sectors, whether directly related to the field or not, value these abilities. The major is practical in terms of the transferable skills graduates attain.

Related: Jobs with a Psychology Degree in Australia

The Difficult Path to Become a Psychologist

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The difficulty of a psychology major ramps up if you intend to use your degree to become a professional psychologist. Simply getting average grades isn’t enough. You need to achieve excellent marks and should be aiming for honors status.

Becoming a psychologist begins with your bachelor’s degree. In postgraduate studies, the scientific side of the discipline becomes more evident, especially its strong biology component. Psychology is a STEM major. High grades are essential to secure spots in master’s and doctoral programs, which are often highly competitive.

Qualifying as a licensed psychologist typically requires a PsyD or PhD in a relevant specialty. Among the many different fields of psychology are Clinical, Counseling Psychology, Behavioral, Cognitive, Child, and Developmental Psychology.

Psychologists must be able to perform four core tasks: (1) psychological assessments and testing, (2) diagnosing mental health issues and formulating treatment plans, (3) providing individual therapy, and (4) conducting research to advance the understanding of human behavior.

While starting a psychology major might seem manageable, aiming to be a licensed professional makes it tougher. Other majors, like accounting, nursing, law, engineering, and social work, might offer easier paths to licensure.

Related: What Does a Psychologist Do?

Why Majoring in Psychology Is Often Worth It

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Given the low likelihood of actually becoming a psychologist, why study psychology? We asked dozens of students to explain why they chose psychology, and the answers were illuminating.

People often choose to major in psychology for its insights into human behavior. This knowledge isn’t confined to therapeutic settings; it permeates everyday situations, whether in personal relationships or workplace dynamics. Understanding the motivations behind human actions is invaluable in almost any profession.

Furthermore, the coursework sharpens transferable skills such as critical thinking, research proficiency, and data analysis. These skills are highly sought after across vocations, ranging from marketing and business to education and human resources.

Lastly, the personal growth and self-awareness that accompany this major are added benefits. Exploring the human psyche prompts students to reflect on their own behaviors and emotions, fostering improved mental well-being and a more empathetic perspective. In essence, it’s not merely an education about others but also a deep dive into one’s self.

Follow Andrew Lancaster:
The director of Lerna Courses, Andrew Lancaster, is experienced in analytics, technology, and business development. He has a PhD in Economics from the Australian National University. His writing helps people make informed choices about education and careers. He covers a range of topics, including university education, psychology, and professional growth.
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