Becoming a full-fledged psychologist usually requires a Ph.D., but for psych majors who stop at the bachelor's degree level, the job market is still wide open. Psychology bachelor's degree programs come with an enormous range of flexibility and can lead graduates down a number of surprising career paths. Here are five wonderfully unique ways to use a psych degree.
1. Field instructor
William Williamson's "office" is the great outdoors. After majoring in psychology and religion at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, Williamson landed a job as a field instructor with WinGate Wilderness Therapy, a company that offers therapeutic eight- to 12-week camping trips for troubled adolescents. Williamson doesn't provide any direct therapy, but he does aid on-site psychologists and teach clients basic outdoor skills ranging from making fire to navigating by the stars.
"A lot of what I learned with my degree I use and utilize on a daily basis with students," he says. "… We have some students who are on the autism spectrum, and my degree has given me the knowledge to make a more meaningful impact on their lives."
On top of wilderness therapy programs, psychology degree holders can also find work as assistants, coordinators and specialists in a broad array of organizations including mental health clinics, rehabilitation centers, homeless shelters, youth organizations and behavioral health groups.
2. Advertising analyst
There are two major reasons why psychology majors are attractive in the advertising analyst field, says Laurence Shatkin, author of "50 Best Jobs for Your Personality."
"Presumably [psychology majors] have some understanding of human behavior, and that can be helpful when understanding consumer behavior," he says. "The other reason is that there's a lot of statistical data that gets used in deciding whether an advertisement works or not. You look at how the advertisement results in buyer behavior or doesn't result in buyer behavior."
Experience, such as an internship, job shadowing program or freelance work, can go a long way in helping psych grads break into the field, according to Suzanne Voigt, a career consultant at the University of Georgia.
"A student who comes in, for instance, with a psychology degree who has all this experience in advertising is going to be much more appealing to an employer than a student who is majoring in advertising who has no experience," she says.
3. Probation officers
Law enforcement is also a possibility. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that behavioral science degrees — psychology included — can serve as a solid educational background for probation and parole officers, as well as correctional treatment specialists. But those jobs aren't for the faint of heart. These officers frequently work in high-crime areas, navigate "hostile environments" and deal with potentially dangerous criminals. Which is why it pays to do your research before signing on, says Laurence Shatkin.
"If you can network and go there and experience the workplace, that will give you an idea of if you want to be in that workplace or not," he says.
4. Career and education specialist
Cristina Cardenas, a 2013 graduate from the University of California, Irvine, is currently using her psychology and social science degrees to run a work experience program that's one of several initiatives offered through a mental health rehabilitation organization in Orange County, California. Targeted toward mental health patients ages 16 to 25, the program provides work training, résumé and cover letter help, and college application support.
"Psychology lets you work with disadvantaged populations, and although I didn't know what field I wanted to work in, I knew I wanted to work with disadvantaged populations …," she says.
To prepare herself for the job market, Cardenas put in 300 hours as an intern at a local homeless shelter and, as an undergraduate, landed a paid job helping students at an area high school get ready for college. Both positions, she says, provided her with much-needed work experience, and the latter helped her segue directly into her current job about a month after graduation.
It's worth noting that a career specialist, which you can break into with a psychology bachelor's degree, is different from a career counselor, which typically requires a master's degree or higher.
5. Data or statistical analyst
The strong statistics grounding psychology degrees provide combined with the drought of actual statistics majors means opportunities in the quantitative fields, says Ronald Wasserstein, executive director of the American Statistical Association.
"For [psych majors] to be maximally successful, they would want to have had some decent exposure to college-level mathematics in addition to their bachelor's degree in psychology," he says. "A calculus course or two would be great; exposure to linear algebra would also be great."
Statistics-based and data crunching jobs are aplenty in a wide array of fields, including the financial sector, insurance, manufacturing and retail, Wasserstein adds, and you can find them by looking up positions with "numerical modeling," "predictive modeling" and "analytics" in the description. In addition to having a solid math background, psych majors can also up their job marketability by familiarizing themselves with R, a free software program that's used in statistical computing, and with the Python computer programming language.
"… If [psych majors] have got good quantitative skills, good math skills and some computing skills, they could probably get their foot in the door," Wasserstein says.
Cristina Cardenas, 2013 Graduate from the University of California, Irvine, Interviewed by the author on Sept. 18, 2014
"What Can I Do With A Major In Psychology?", Saint Vincent College,
Laurence Shatkin, Ph.D., Author of "50 Best Jobs for Your Personality," Interviewed by the author on Sept. 16, 2014
How to Become a Probation Officer or Correctional Treatment Specialist, "Occupational Outlook Handbook," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,
How to Become a Psychologist, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,
What Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists Do, "Occupational Outlook Handbook," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,
How to Become a School or Career Counselor, "Occupational Outlook Handbook," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,
Suzanne Voigt, Career Counselor with the University of Georgia, Interviewed by the author on Sept. 18, 2014
Ronald Wasserstein, Executive Director of the American Statistical Association, Interviewed by the author Sept. 17, 2014
William Williamson, Senior Field Instructor with WinGate Wilderness Therapy, Interviewed by the author on Sept. 18, 2014