A Guide to Careers: Psychology

The highest earning and most popular careers in the many fields of psychology

As a psychology student you may be wondering which path you want to take in the vast world of psychology, and choosing which career path to follow can be an intimidating task.

When deciding to major in psychology, it is important to understand the many sub-fields and specializations within this broad major. Of the many fields in psychology, we’ve determined that the following are the most popular and have pretty high salaries: clinical, social, counseling and experimental.

There are so many career options for each of these fields, each with their own requirements in terms of education and experience. To help you determine which field is right for you, we’ve put together a guide to show you all of the different opportunities that are available in the different fields of study.

Clinical Psychology

Clinical Psychology is broad branch of psychology that specializes in diagnosing and treating mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Some of the more common disorders that are treated include learning disabilities, chronic illnesses like diabetes or obesity, mental health problems like depression and anxiety, and psychological problems like bipolar or schizophrenia.

In order to earn your license to practice clinical psychology, and/or teach psychology courses at the college level, you must earn a doctorate (Ph.D or Psy.D.) in clinical psychology. Getting a doctorate takes five to seven years, plus a one-year internship in most cases. Other opportunities are available for those with a masters, but don’t expect to get too far in the field of clinical psychology with only a bachelors degree.

Child Psychologist

Annual Salary: $67,880

A doctorate in clinical psychology can allow you to work as a child psychologist at schools, inpatient or outpatient treatment facilities, juvenile detention centers, mental hospitals, clinics, research laboratories and private practices. A child psychologist provides support by altering unhealthy, destructive and dangerous thinking patterns and behaviors.

Your main responsibilities will include:

  • Teaching children and adolescents healthy coping and communication skills
  • Helping children work through emotional distress
  • Counseling mentally ill children and adolescents
  • Providing academic guidance to students


Annual Salary: $94,100

A neuropsychologist focuses on brain processes and behaviors. If you decide to pursue this career field, you will more than likely work at a trauma centers for brain-injuries and/or stroke survivors, hospitals (in the trauma department) or at a research laboratory.

The majority of aspiring neuropsychologists, will usually not be able to secure employment until they have earned either a masters degree or a Ph.D. In order to make the most of their careers, however, most individuals interested in this field pursue Ph. D.’s. Most professionals in this field receive certification by the American Board of Clinical Neuropsychology (ABCN) or the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology (AACN).

Your main responsibilities will include:

  • Conduct brain scans to determine the patients cognitive performance.
  • Use a variety of psychological assessments and techniques to interview, observe, evaluate, diagnose and treat patients with abnormal brain function or activity and cognitive defects.


Annual Salary: $68,640

Mental health needs can be high among older people. It’s the elderly, not the younger populations, that are at the greatest risk of suicide. After all, this is an age group that faces a lot of loss. The loss of physical ability, health and loss of lifelong relationships just to mention a few. Geropsychology, or geriatric psychology, is a branch of psychology that focuses on older adults.

The population of older adults is expected to rise in the years to 2030, hence the need for psychologists who are experts at issues affecting this population are pretty high.

Responsibilities include:

  • Addressing the issues of mental and physical adjustment into old age for older adults and their families
  • Diagnosing problems facing elderly patients and providing appropriate treatment
  • Promote healthy lifestyle for elderly patients to follow: Developing exercise programs, special diets and social activities

The aging brain is the subject of a good deal of research in geriatric psychology: What factors predict healthy emotional adjustment? How can memory be strengthened?

Social Psychology


Social psychology is the study of how people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others. The group of people that can influence a person is often real, but the imagined or even the implied presence of other people can sometimes alter an individual’s behavior or thoughts.

The majority of individuals interested in social psychology careers will typically start out by earning bachelor degrees in general psychology or social psychology. Opportunities broaden as students earn more advanced degrees like a master’s degree and doctorate.

Social psychologists that prefer to work in a clinical setting should consider earning Doctor of Psychology, and those interested primarily in research should earn Doctor of Philosophy, or PhD, degrees.

Sports Psychologist

Annual Salary: $60,000 to $80,000

In sports psychology, the psychologist studies the effects of physical activity to the psychological health and performance of athletes. Sports psychologists work along with training coaches in developing rehabilitation and team building programs. They also provide counseling to athletes who undergo career transitions and that have had previous injuries that have affected their cognition.

Most employers require at least a master’s degree for entry-level positions in sports psychology; typically a master’s or doctorate degree in clinical psychology, sports psychology or counseling is needed.

Responsibilities include:

  • Help athletes improve mental skills for performance and overcome obstacles to achieve their full potential
  • Determine when athletes are able to return after injury
  • Help athletes mentally prepare for competition and practice through various mental strategies, such as visualization, self-talk and relaxation techniques

Correctional Psychologist

Annual Salary: $68,640

A Correctional psychologist, an important part of a correctional facility team, ensures the rehabilitation of inmates, and help them transition from prison to prison or back into the world. Correctional psychologists work in a team with caseworkers, attorneys and correctional facility staff members to modify or eliminate dangerous behavior of inmates. Correctional psychologists often are assigned cases to work with inmates suffering from severe mental health issues, such as depression, addiction, and personality disorders.

It is required that you first obtain a bachelor’s degree in a field related to psychology, criminal justice, or social work; and it is highly recommended that you take electives with other beneficial course areas as well, such as anthropology, social psychology, security administration, political science, law, and sociology.

It may be a good idea to consider pursuing an advanced master’s degree in criminal justice for more promotion opportunities and higher earning potential, but this is not required for entry-level positions.

Responsibilities include:

  • Assisting prisoners with bettering their lives during and after their time in jail
  • Work with dangerous criminals in a correctional facility setting on a daily basis

Industrial & Organizational Psychologist (I/O)

Annual Salary: $82,760

An I/O psychologist applies principles of psychology to human resources, administration, management, sales, and marketing problems. An I/O psychologist will design organizational structures, communication systems, group interactions, morale, or motivation to ensure a company is functioning productively.

There are very limited job opportunities for industrial and organizational psychologists holding only bachelor’s degrees. Those with master’s degrees in this area will often be able to start their industrial and organizational psychology careers in entry level positions, while those with Ph.D.’s will usually be considered for even more employment opportunities in this field.

Responsibilities include:

  • Conduct presentations on research findings for clients or at research meetings
  • employee testing and selection
  • Formulate and implement training programs for training and development
  • Conduct research studies of physical work environments for organizational development and analysis.
  • Study consumers’ reactions to new products and package designs, and to advertising efforts, using surveys and tests.

Forensic Psychologist

Annual Salary: $59,440

The word forensic is defined as “the scientific method for investigation of crime”

Much like a correctional psychologist, a forensic psychologist works in-between psychology and the criminal justice system. Forensic psychologists usually work with the police force, law enforcement personnel, the State attorney and public defenders. They might study criminals and their crimes to determine what traits certain types of criminals have. Think of Dr. Huang from Law & Order: SVU.

B.D. Wong as Dr. George Huang in a promo for season 10 of Law & Order: SVU (Source: NBC)

Individuals pursuing forensic psychology careers should make sure that their education is focused on psychology, criminology, and forensics. A bachelor’s degree is often not enough to pursue a career in forensic psychology. Master’s degrees and doctorate degrees in forensic psychology are usually necessary.

Employers look for experience in clinical psychology and a firm understanding of legal knowledge (including mental health law, case law, and courtroom procedures).

Responsibilities include:

  • Prove if the accused is sane or mentally ill through psychological questioning and testing
  • Interviewing criminals, along with their loved ones and victims
  • Study crime scenes in order to find evidence and develop a criminal profile
  • Give testimonies about why a crime may have occurred, or whether or not they believe a defendant was likely to have committed the crimes


Counseling psychology focuses on the normal adaptation of individuals to their environment and with helping patients cope with crises, problems of daily living and mental challenges. Traditionally, counseling psychology has been used to study mental health in patients and focuses on client strengths in order to foster healthy living.

Clinical psychology and counseling psychology are often mistaken for each other, but the main differences are that counseling psychologists typically focus on individuals whose symptoms are less severe, such as those coping with everyday stresses; while clinical psychologists, on the other hand, often treat patients with more serious symptoms and disorders.

Military Psychology

Annual Salary: $40,000 — $60,000

Military psychology is simply psychology applied in a military context. Military psychologists work with military personnel to reduce mental and emotional problems associated with combat, separation from family and other hardships of military service. The main priority of a military psychologist is to keep servicemen and women mentally fit for service.

There is high demand for trained psychologists to work in the military, and these positions often offer high pay, bonuses, and specialized training programs.

Military psychology careers often start by earning a four year bachelor degree in general psychology, clinical psychology, or counseling psychology. Students who choose to earn their graduate degrees at military schools will usually have their tuition and living expenses paid by the United States military during the course of their education.

Responsibilities include:

  • Conducting research to find out which personality traits are best for certain military positions
  • Focus on how to effectively treat some common mental disorders in the military, particularly Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Perform mental evaluations before recruits are allowed to enlist in the service
  • Responsible for assessing, diagnosing, and treating military personnel with mental or emotional disorders
  • Provide grief counseling to family members and loved ones of military personnel that have been killed in the line of duty

Career Counselor

Annual Salary: $56,040

This is a type of counseling that focuses on helping people make the best of their careers, whether they’re just starting out in the work force or they’ve been in it longer than they care to admit. The main goal of a career counselor is to help their clients find careers that suit them and careers that they are suitable for.

Career counseling careers start with bachelors degrees in areas such as psychology or counseling, and like many other careers in psychology, higher degrees like masters and doctorates lead to more job opportunities with higher salaries.

Responsibilities include:

  • Be someone for students to talk to about their thoughts, ideas, feelings, and concerns about their career and educational choices
  • Help students make career decisions, stay emotionally healthy and achieve success academically
  • Help others identify the factors influencing their career development, and help assess their interests, abilities, and values

Experimental Psychology

Experimental psychologists use scientific methods to collect data and perform research. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, experimental psychologists often work for universities, government agencies, private research centers, and nonprofit organizations.

Typically, experimental psychologists need at minimum a master’s degree in general or experimental psychology. For those interested in working at a university, a doctorate-level degree in psychology is usually required.

Math skills and a strong grounding in how to collect and analyze data are critical to becoming an experimental psychologist, and while they often study the human mind and behavior, they may study animal behaviors as well.

Some key areas of interest within experimental psychology include memory, learning, attention, sensation and perception, and how the brain influences behavior.


Annual Salary: $72,733

Research psychologists study how humans feel, think, learn, and act. They also study physical problems with the brain and work to develop treatments for problems such as memory loss. The exact type of research an experimental psychologist performs may depend on a number of factors, including his or her educational background, interests and area of employment.

Psychology research takes place inside of laboratories and universities, and often includes experiments, testing, and the analysis of statistical data.

A bachelor’s degree in psychology allows people to work as research assistants for psychologists. The doctoral degree is the standard for independent research or practice in psychology, while master’s degree holders with several years of experience under the supervision of doctoral-level psychologists, obtain jobs in:

  • Consulting and marketing research
  • Government offices
  • Universities and colleges
  • The private sector as researchers, data collectors, and analysts.

Often, psychologists with training in experimental psychology contribute across sub-fields, some of these contributions include:

  • Using scientific research to provide insights that improve teaching and learning, create safer workplaces, and promote healthy child development


Annual Salary: $94,625

A psychology professor instructs students, has classroom discussions, grades papers, and creates lesson plans. Professors who teach graduate-level courses may also supervise students’ dissertation research.

They typically begin as assistant professors without tenure and work their way up to the full professor level, after a number of years. Tenure requires being evaluated by other faculty members in several ways: perception of collegiality with other department and university faculty, number and quality of publications, and quality of teaching. Tenure-track psychology professors at 4-year colleges or universities must hold a Ph.D.

In summary, to become a psychology professor, you must earn at least a master’s degree, and to further advance your career, you should earn a Ph.D. for tenure-track positions at a 4-year university.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degree in psychology?

Graduate schools require more time and needs a higher level of commitment in terms of work and intellectual energy. However, a master’s degree gives a lot of choices in terms of changing career paths while having a Ph.D. requires focus on a certain field.

The world of psychology is vast as it works on studying the human mind and behavior. There are thousands of psychology-related jobs everywhere, but these are the most common positions companies look for.

It is without doubt that having a psychology degree is one of the best degrees that offer good salary and career satisfaction as well.

If you see a career on here that you’re interested in, stop by the University Career Center and speak to a Peer Career Advisor or a professional staff member to get started on Career Advising — so that we can get you on the right track to land that position.

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