Human Behavior Degrees and Majors

Students interested in studying human behavior can pursue associate or undergraduate degrees in psychology, and may go on to obtain master's degrees in counseling or doctoral degrees in subfields of psychology.

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Essential Information

Two-year associate's programs in psychology offer an overview of the field and can prepare students for entry-level careers in social services or for transfer to bachelor's degree programs. At the bachelor's degree level, psychology students can select areas of concentration, such as cognitive psychology, and students may gain research experience. A high school diploma is a prerequisite for both of these programs.

Master's programs in counseling also offer concentrations, like school counseling or mental health counseling. Admission requirements for these programs usually include a bachelor's degree, GRE score, and completion of some prerequisite coursework in psychology. Counseling master's programs include both lecture-based courses and field experiences, and graduates may meet the academic requirements for counseling licensure or certification.

Ph.D. programs in clinical psychology tend to be research-oriented, and they culminate in a dissertation. Admission to Ph.D. programs generally entails prior completion of a bachelor's program with psychology coursework. GRE general test scores are also usually required. Ph.D. holders may pursue college-level research or teaching positions. Some Ph.D. programs also prepare students for work as practicing clinical psychologists.

Depending on the level of education chosen, students may also be required to complete an internship or thesis.

Associate Degree in Psychology

Associate degree programs in psychology introduce the various subfields of psychology, such as clinical, social, personality and developmental psychology.

Aside from general education requirements, psychology programs involve very little math; however, students should expect to learn some amount of statistics within the context of experimental methods. Associate degree programs in psychology generally include one or two survey courses and a number of elective courses in psychology. Typical courses include:

  • General psychology
  • Experimental psychology
  • Biological psychology
  • Human development
  • Organizational psychology

Bachelor's Degree in Psychology

Bachelor's degree programs in psychology familiarize students with various psychological disciplines, as well as research and experimental methods for the study of psychology. Bachelor's degree students should expect to learn more statistics than those at the associate level. Prospective students complete either SAT or ACT tests in order to meet admissions requirements.

Aside from core major requirements, psychology majors also take courses in other fields of social science, such as linguistics, sociology and anthropology. Basic neuroscience courses are also required. Common courses include:

  • Clinical psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Personality psychology
  • Industrial and organizational psychology
  • Memory and perception
  • Human cognition

Master's Degree in Counselor Education

Master's programs in counselor education provide students with the theoretical background and practical training necessary for working as licensed professional counselors. Most counselor education programs require students to choose areas of specialization, such as mental health counseling, school counseling or substance abuse counseling. Students learn mental health concepts and skills required to assist others in coping with social or emotional disorders, managing interpersonal relationships or overcoming academic difficulties. Supervised internships provide students with field experience in counseling.

While a bachelor's degree is required to enter a master's program, a bachelor's in psychology is not a prerequisite. There are programs, though, that require students to have completed a certain number of college-level psychology courses. General knowledge of statistics is also required.

Master's degree programs in counselor education typically cover psychological theories and counseling techniques. The following list includes courses representative of those offered by counselor education programs:

  • Professional counseling ethics
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Assessment and diagnosis
  • Counseling techniques
  • Career counseling
  • Multicultural counseling

Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology

Ph.D. clinical psychology programs prepare students for careers in psychopathology and psychotherapy research. For this reason, Ph.D. programs tend to emphasize research methodology, including experimental methods and statistical data analysis. Ph.D. students conduct original research under guidance of faculty advisors and write up their results in doctoral dissertations. In addition to research and coursework, doctoral students must also present their results at academic conferences, publish papers in academic journals and complete clinical practica.

Prospective students do not need to hold undergraduate degrees in psychology specifically; however, they must demonstrate that they possess sufficient knowledge of psychology and statistics to succeed in their graduate careers. Relevant undergraduate research experience, though not strictly required, is crucial for admission to a top-ranked Ph.D. program.

Coursework for clinical psychology doctoral programs typically include both descriptive courses and methodology courses. Students gain up-to-date knowledge of specialized topics by taking graduate seminars. Typical courses include:

  • Psychopathology
  • Psychotherapeutic techniques
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Research methods and data analysis
  • Clinical assessment
  • Professional development and ethics

Popular Career Options

Graduates of associate degree programs in psychology can pursue entry-level careers in social services, education or mental health services, where they will be supervised by social workers, psychologists, counselors or teachers. The following list includes common career opportunities for individuals who hold associate degrees in psychology.

  • Teacher's aide
  • Therapist's assistant
  • Camp counselor for disturbed youth

Those who hold bachelor's degrees in psychology can pursue career options in public relations, human resources, education, research, social services and related fields. Common career options include:

  • Employee relations officer
  • Psychiatric assistant
  • Laboratory technician
  • Opinion survey researcher

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), (, as of May 2015, the median annual salary was $39,980 for substance abuse and behavior disorder counselors, $43,190 for mental health counselors and $53,660 for school and career counselors. From 2014 to 2024, the BLS expects 8% employment growth for school and career counselors, 22% growth for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, and 19% growth for mental health counselors.

Projections data released by the BLS indicate that employment of clinical, counseling and school psychologists was expected to increase 20% between 2014 and 2024. The median annual salary of clinical psychologists was $70,580 as of May 2015.

Graduates of Ph.D. programs in clinical psychology can also work as professors at colleges or universities. According to the BLS, employment of professors is expected to increase 13% from 2014 to 2024. The median annual salary of postsecondary psychology teachers was $70,260 as of May 2015.

Continuing Education Information

Licensure requirements for licensed professional counselors vary by state; however, all states require applicants to hold master's or doctoral degrees from accredited institutions. Applicants must also pass one or more licensing exams, such as the National Counselor Exam.

There are four levels of educational options available for those interested in human behavior: associate's degree, bachelor's degree, master's degree, and Ph.D. With each elevation in schooling level brings more involvement in the field, including research, clinical practica, and presentations.

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