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Are There Too Many Psychology Majors?

It's One of the Most Popular Majors. Could It Be Too Popular?



Could there be too many psychology majors?

Image: Master isolated images / freedigitalphotos.net

Psychology is one of the most popular majors at universities throughout the United States, ranking in the top five degrees awarded at many schools. It has also become a popular online degree option, with a number of online and traditional schools providing access to online bachelor's degrees in psychology.

With so many people choosing to earn a psychology degree, you might find yourself wondering what all these psychology majors are doing once they get out of school. Is it possible that there might be too many psychology majors? Is there enough demand in the workforce for all of these bachelor's-level psychology degree holders?

Just How Many Psychology Majors Are There?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were 1,524,000 bachelor's degrees awarded during 2006-2007. Business majors represented the largest number of degrees conferred, amounting to 328,000 degrees. Social sciences and history made up the second largest area, with a total of 164,000 degrees. Of those social science degrees, a total of 90,000 were in psychology.

Psychology has grown tremendously in popularity, particularly at the bachelor's level, over the past 60 years. In 1950, approximately 10,000 psychology degrees were awarded; in 1970, approximately 35,000 were awarded; and in 1990, approximately 55,000 were awarded.

The popularity of graduate degrees in psychology has also grown, but at a much slower rate. In 2006-2007, just over 20,000 master's degrees in psychology were awarded while approximately 5,000 doctorate degrees were conferred.

Is There a Strong Demand for Psychology Majors?

With so many people opting to earn a psychology degree, what does it mean for the job market after graduating? Is there a big demand for all of these psychology majors? Or is it possible that there are simply too many people earning psychology degrees?

In response to my request for experiences with psychology degrees, one student wrote:

"Both me and my girlfriend got our BA in psychology in 2012. After nearly a year of attempting to find jobs we both had to settle for clerk positions because that was the most pay we could find. $12/hr. Every job out there for psych won't list the pay on the application because they all offer peanuts. Can't be a social worker because you don't have a social work certification or social work degree. No luck getting a position at an actual psych hospital or counseling position because so much competition out there and those people keep their jobs until they die (and pay less than 25k/year). I have not even had luck with government/ veterans preference jobs"

While this obviously represents just one individual's experience, he does hit on an important point; psychology majors are often included on lists of college degrees with high unemployment rates. In a 2011 CBS News article on 25 college majors with the highest unemployment rates, five different bachelor's-level psychology degrees made the list.

These degrees and associated unemployment rates were:

  • Clinical psychology: 19.5%
  • Educational psychology: 10.9%
  • Industrial and organizational psychology: 10.4%
  • Miscellaneous psychology: 10.3%
  • Social psychology: 8.8%

Such numbers can lead to concern that a psychology degree is not practical and that those who have such degrees are doomed unemployment. It is important to also note that these numbers are also highly influenced by the background of a deep economic recession. While unemployment is certainly a pressing national problem, an undergraduate degree in psychology does provide training and preparation for a variety of entry-level positions in a number of different areas.

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the U.S. Department of Labor, the demand for psychologists is expected to grow by 22 percent through the year 2020. They handbook notes, however, that job options and pay are much better for those who earn a doctorate degree in psychology.

There is certainly a need for people who work in mental health. The reality is that while there is a need for better mental health services, the number of jobs in the field is often restricted by what health insurers are willing to pay. Improved mental health services is one factor that could inspire a greater demand for bachelor's-level psychology degree holders.

What Do the Experts Have to Say?

In a white paper exploring the question of whether there are too many psychology majors, Jane S. Hanolen, psychology professor at the University of West Florida, found that while psychology is indeed one of the most popular university majors, this doesn't necessarily mean that there are "too many" psychology majors.

"Parents sometimes fret when they hear their children are choosing psychology as a major when they enter college. The fear derives from the assumption that, as graduates, they will not be able to find employment after graduation or that they will be trapped into having to pursue graduate training if they are going to be gainfully employed," Hanolen writes. While unemployment is indeed a national problem and a major point of concern, Hanolen suggests that the psychology major offers effective training for a wide variety of entry-level jobs. Some of the advantages of an undergraduate degree in psychology degree include:

  • Equipping psychology students with communication, critical thinking, project management, and problem-solving skills.

  • Fostering desirable qualities such as "persistence in difficult situations, tolerance of ambiguity, and adaptability to change" (Hanolen).

  • Teaching useful knowledge about the scientific method, assessment, and evaluation.

  • Helping students become more knowledgeable about the human mind and behavior.

Given the current popularity of the subject, it is likely that the number of people earning psychology degrees will continue to grow each year. If you are thinking about earning a psychology degree, you should certainly have some sort of plan for what you want to do with your degree once you graduate. The job market might be crowded and competitive, but knowing where you want to work and taking steps to set yourself apart from the competition can help.

The Value of Your Psychology Degree

If you are planning to enter the workforce immediately after earning your bachelor's degree in psychology, invest some time while you are still in school toward gaining some practical experience in your desired profession, networking with people already employed in your field, and forging good relationships with your professors in order to get good recommendations once you graduate.

The reality is that a large portion of people who earn a bachelor's degree in psychology do not end up working in a field directly related to psychology. Some of the most common areas of employment include market research, sales, and management positions. Whether you earn a psychology degree or not, learning how to market yourself and your skills in the workplace is essential. As a psychology student, you gained valuable knowledge and experience in areas such as interpersonal communication, critical thinking, and written communication. Highlighting your strengths and how these skills can make you a valuable employee can help you find a job in a competitive market.

While many choose to enter the workplace immediately after completing an undergraduate degree, others opt to use their bachelor's of psychology degree as a stepping stone toward further graduate study. Many opt to earn a graduate degree in psychology, while others might choose to pursue an alternative degree option such as in law, medicine, social work, education, or counseling.

The number of students majoring in psychology is just one thing to consider when you are trying to make the decision about whether or not to earn a psychology degree. Future employment is one piece of the puzzle, but so is passion for the subject and happiness with the work. Spend some time exploring your options and researching your career options before you decide if psychology is right for you.

Resources that can help:

The Psychology Career Quiz

The Job Outlook for Psychologists

The Psychology Education FAQ


Halonen, J. S. (2011). White paper: Are there too many psychology majors? Retrieved from http://www.cogdop.org/page_attachments/0000/0200/FLA_White_Paper_for_cogop_posting.pdf

O'Shaugnhessy, L. (). 25 college majors with the highest unemployment rates. CBS News. Retreived from http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505145_162-57325132/25-college-majors-with-the-highest-unemployment-rates/


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