Career Pathway: Psychology

Pathway Overview

Why Psychology?

  • Varied career pathways
  • Options at varying degree levels 
  • Desirable for those seeking a helping profession

Psychology is the study of the human mind and behavior. It encompasses varied specializations, including counseling psychology, clinical psychology, educational psychology, school psychology, industrial-organizational psychology, social psychology, cognitive psychology, behavioral psychology, forensic psychology, industrial/organizational psychology, and more. To become a psychologist, you must graduate from a doctoral program in psychology and pass a speciality-specific examination. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the psychologist role is projected to grow at roughly the same rate as the overall job market, about 8 percent between 2020 and 2030. 

Studying psychology can open many career pathways in areas like research, human resources, education, consulting, and social services. 

Certifications and Licenses

Licenses in psychology are subject to state of residence. Please verify your state’s license titles and requirements. Listed below are requirements for psychology licenses, as well as certifications in related fields. These certifications are optional, but often appealing to employers. 

Psychologist License – Varies By State

To become a licensed psychologist, you must graduate from an accredited doctoral program in psychology, complete all required fieldwork, pass an examination, and complete any other requirements designed by the state where you apply.

Professional in Human Resources

To gain the PHR credential, you must pass the PHR exam and meet one of the following combinations: 1) Have at least one year of experience in a professional-level HR position and a master’s degree or higher 2) Have at least two years of experience in a professional-level HR position + a bachelor’s degree 3) Have at least four years of experience in a professional-level HR position.

Senior Professional in Human Resources

To gain the SPHR credential, you must pass the SPHR exam and meet one of the following combinations: 1) Have at least four years of experience in a professional-level HR position and a master’s degree or higher 2) Have at least five years of experience in a professional-level HR position and a bachelor’s degree 3) Have at least seven years of experience in a professional-level HR position.

Certified Nonprofit Professional

To earn a CNP credential, you must follow and complete one of five tracks: workforce, collegiate, legacy campus, service organization, or advanced track. Requirements and coursework vary based on the track..

In-Demand Skills

Ultimately, your ability to land a specific role rests on your experience and educational background, as well as proficiency in the skills below.

Transferable Skills and Qualities

  • Critical-thinking oriented
  • Communicative
  • Collaborative
  • Creative 
  • Adaptable
  • Flexible
  • Analytical

Clinical Skills (Field-Specific)

  • Psychology knowledge
  • Research skills
  • Counseling/therapy techniques 
  • Needs assessment administration
  • Report writing
  • Client advising
  • Data analysis
  • Program management

Psychology Career Fields and Descriptions

Note: This is a basic guide to kick-start exploration, not a complete list of all paths. See specific job descriptions for more details.


Conducting research in psychology involves collaborating on a team to design and answer a research question. This often involves seeking approval from an institutional review board (IRB), writing grants for funding, conducting literature reviews, finding participants, conducting experiments, surveys, interviews, data analysis, and writing about research findings. Research methods vary greatly based on the type of psychological research being conducted.

Types of organizations where researchers may work:

  • Research institutes 
  • Universities 
  • Mental health clinics
  • Nonprofits

Entry-level Job Title Examples: Research Assistant 

Future Roles: Research Manager, Research Supervisor

Relevant Licenses: N/A

Psychology PhD or PsyD

Those with a doctorate in psychology often pursue teaching, research, or clinical practice (if the degree is in clinical or counseling psychology). The PhD route is highly regarded by academia as the standard for teaching in universities or colleges because the degree requires intensive research and a doctoral dissertation. A PsyD, on the other hand, is clinically focused so graduates typically pursue clinical pathways to conduct therapy with clients. 

Types of organizations where psychology PhDs or PsyDs may work:

  • Universities or colleges 
  • Research institutes 
  • Private practices 
  • Hospitals
  • State, federal, or military government agencies

Job Title Examples: Psychologist (PhD or PsyD), Psychology Lecturer 

Future Roles: Assistant Professor of Psychology, Clinical Psychologist Director, Director of Clinical Training

Relevant Licenses: Psychologist License – Varies by State 

Industrial-Organizational Psychology (I/O) 

Industrial-organizational psychologists apply the principles of psychology to the workplace. They use knowledge of human behavior to create training programs, improve performance, and maximize leadership effectiveness. I/O psychologists conduct needs assessments and research, and analyze data to design effective solutions to problems. They typically hold a master’s or doctoral degree in organizational psychology or a related field.

Types of organizations where I/O psychologists may work:

  • For-profit companies 
  • Research institutes 
  • Universities or colleges

Entry-level Job Title Examples: I/O Psychology Associate, I/O Researcher, People Scientist    

Future Roles: I/O Psychologist, Senior I/O Psychology Researcher, Psychologist 

Relevant Licenses: N/A


Consultants advise other companies, nonprofit organizations, or government agencies about a wide range of topics. For those with an interest in I/O psychology, many large consulting firms have a human services practice that focuses on human resources and organizational development. Consultants often conduct research, analyze data, make recommendations, write reports, and present to clients.

Types of organizations where researchers may work:

  • Consulting firms
  • For-profit companies  
  • Freelance or independent firms
  • Nonprofits

Entry-level Job Title Examples: Consultant, Consultant – Human Services, Human Resources Consultant 

Future Roles: Health and Human Services Senior Consultant, Manager 

Relevant Licenses: N/A

Human Resources

Human resources professionals focus on employees within complex organizations. Their duties include recruiting, benefits, compensation, learning and development, and employee relations. Human resources professionals need to be strong leaders, sound decision makers, analysts, and effective communicators with a consistent work ethic. Understanding human behavior and psychology can be useful when focusing on the human capital of an organization. 

Types of organizations where human resources professionals may work:

  • For-profit companies
  • Nonprofit organizations 
  • Local, state, and federal government agencies

Entry-level Job Title Examples: Recruiter, Learning and Development Associate, Human Resources Analyst, Human Resources Consultant 

Future Roles: Recruiting Manager, Learning and Development Manager, Human Resources Manager, Chief People Officer 

Relevant Certifications: PHR, SPHR

Student Affairs/Higher Education

Professionals who work in higher education or student affairs help students during their time in college or university. Psychology-related positions in higher education include academic advising, admissions, and more. Student affairs encompasses a wide range of functional areas, including residential life, career services, student organizations, health and wellness services, multicultural services, and other student support services. These broad functions focus on different areas of the student experience, but all are student-focused and utilize many skill sets taught within master’s psychology programs. 

For many positions in student affairs or higher education, you must hold a master’s level degree in a related field, like psychology. 

Types of organizations where student affairs/higher education professionals may work:

  • State universities 
  • Private colleges
  • Community colleges 
  • Online educational programs

Job Title Examples: Academic Advisor, Admissions Counselor, Career Advisor

Future Roles: Director of Admissions, Director of Career Services

Relevant Licenses: N/A

Nonprofit Management

Nonprofits provide wide-ranging social programs and services, typically focused on a specific area, such as education, health, human services, arts, and religion. Nonprofit program managers operationalize the mission of an organization by coordinating and managing logistics related to the programs and services offered. This could involve planning programs, writing grants, raising funds, organizing logistics, collaborating with stakeholders, assessing effectiveness, delivering direct services, or mobilizing volunteers. 

Those that work in the nonprofit field typically care about people and want to make an impact in society. Many people who study psychology are drawn to nonprofits due to their ideological and skillset alignment.

Types of nonprofit organizations that managers may work:

  • Social advocacy organizations 
  • Public charities 
  • Foundations 
  • Professional associations

Entry-level Job Title Examples: Program Coordinator, Program Specialist, Program Assistant

Future Roles: Program Manager, Director of Programming, Program Director

Relevant Certification: CNP

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