Thinking about majoring in Psychology? Think again.

CBS Moneywatch recently released a list of the college majors with the highest unemployment rates.  Five of the list of 25 majors are related to psychology.  “Ironically,” the accompanying article goes on to say, “Psychology is the fifth most popular college degree.”  Those numbers are probably related, of course; I try to convince jobseekers that they should consider professions where competition is less fierce.  In college, that usually means where the classes are much more demanding.  There are always a few seats left empty in advanced Physics classes.

The top five unemployed majors include:

  1. Clinical psychology 19.5%
  2. Miscellaneous fine arts 16.2%
  3. United States history 15.1%
  4. Library science 15.0%
  5. (tie) Military technologies; educational psychology 10.9%

The Psychology majors I know took courses because they’re fascinated by what makes people tick.  It’s not surprising that the people who responded to my request for interviews were both women; women outnumber male graduates in Psychology by a ratio of 3:1.  My cousin Stefani Haar, now a 39-year-old professional based in Wisconsin, had done some volunteer work in a group home and loved the idea that she could do something for another person. “It seemed so rewarding,” she says.  She recognized that Social Work was the more employable degree, but pursuing a master’s degree wasn’t an option early in her career.  She received almost no help from her high school counselors, but did get support from her parents, who were happy that she made the decision to pursue college (starting a little later in life at 25.) She now works in an Oncology department, providing resources and information to people who have cancer, and her training is an important part of her skill set.

Local entrepreneur and HR professional Suzanne K. Lemen started out as a business major and “absolutely hated accounting.” Her high school counselors were not helpful, either; “I was the valedictorian and I guess they thought that I had it planned.  I figured that I would either be a minister or an attorney, and the psych classes would help with both. ”  She says that she knew she had a “counseling” type personality and eventually pursued Human Resources after her Psychology degree because it gave her a chance to work on the people side of business.  

Psychology departments stress that the major build skills that employers value: critical thinking, problem solving, tolerance for ambiguity, and teamwork.  About forty percent of Psychology majors go on to achieve a graduate degree, according to a 2011 report to the State of Florida’s University System’s Board of Governors staff.  The report touted the value and rigor of the B.S. degree in Psychology, but referred repeatedly to “entry level jobs” as the workplace value of the degree. 

According to the report, only 25 percent of Psychology graduates work in the field of psychology. The report cited the national employers that specifically look for Psychology majors.  Their examples included Wal-Mart, Target, Pizza Hut and Sears.   That may explain why the Bureau of Labor Statistics quotes a salary range of $21,900 to $27,200 for 2001 psychology graduates.  The Psychology majors I know are bright, articulate and successful, and they don’t regret their choice in majors.  They know that job satisfaction is not always measured in money.  That’s a good thing.  According to CNN Money, in 2011, Business majors noticed the biggest bump of all college graduates in offers, with the average salary offer rising nearly 2% to $48,089.

2 thoughts on “Thinking about majoring in Psychology? Think again.

  1. Mark Stern…

    […]Thinking about majoring in Psychology? Think again. « @work: a career blog[…]…


  2. I have a master’s in psychology. I’d advise anybody who wants that degree to go get a job at wal mart now; save yourself the trouble. because that’s where you’re going to be working with that degree.


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