What is a BA in Psychology?

What BA PsychA Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology (BA/BS) is an undergraduate degree conferred upon a student who has met all the graduation prerequisites at a degree-granting college or university. Typically, a BA in Psychology will take 4 years to earn; however, if the college permits, it may be completed in less or more time. The general range of completion of degree requirements is 3-5 years. Students who major in psychology are desirous of a greater understanding of the human mind, emotions and behaviors. Some utilize the bachelor's degree as the foundation for graduate degrees in psychology or other disciplines; others use its benefits to enter the workforce in areas  involving  substantial amounts of human interaction.

What Kinds of Classes Will I Be Taking?

To earn a BA in Psychology, you will need to satisfy both the general education requirements of your college as well as the ones set forth by the college's Psychology Department. General education requirements (GERs) are classes which expose the student to a wide variety of academic disciplines. All institutions require the matriculate to successfully complete general education units which consists of taking a set number of classes in departments such as natural sciences, social sciences and humanities. The goal of general education courses is to graduate scholars who are well-rounded and versed in a variety of the major disciplines; in fact the origins of the concept date back to the late 1800's. Choosing your courses will be an important step in your college career; the grades you earn will ultimately be integrated into your overall Grade Point Average or GPA. Many students prefer to take their general education requirements at a community or city college and later transfer to a 4 year college or university.

Transferring Credits from a Community College or Other Institution

If for financial, geographical or personal reasons you opt to attend either a city or community college, or possibly an online program to satisfy your general education requirements, there is a caveat: confirm with the college or university you want to attend the credits from the community/online college will be transferable. Students failing to cover this base have spent hundreds of dollars, hours and energy passing classes which were not accepted by the Bachelor’s in Psychology Program they had anticipated on attending. To ensure your efforts will be realized, contact the admissions office of the degree-granting college you want to attend and speak with an admissions counselor as to what units they accept and from which junior college or online institution.

What Psychology Classes Will I Take?

Once you have met your general education requirements (or at some colleges before), you will be able to take classes solely from the Psychology Department. A portion of these classes will be “lower division” and others will be “upper division.” The lower division courses serve as an introduction to more complicated topics covered in the upper division classes. Many times a student will be required to successfully pass particular lower division courses to be able to enroll in a higher division counterpart. Each college determines the requirements of the major; typically a mixture of both upper and lower division choices. While classes vary from college to college, there are a few that can be found at most universities. Here is a sampling of courses which are common to most higher learning institutions.

4 Lower Division Psychology Course Examples (Typically available for all students.)

  1. Psychology 1 This basic psychology course strives to give the student a general perspective on the study of the human mind; how individuals process information, the mechanics of learning and memory, what motivates people, how they learn languages, how they interact and what components comprise the human personality.
  2. General Biological-Based Psychology In this class psychology is examined from the perspective of how (biologically) the brain and its functions affect and influence human behavior. Specific elements highlighted are hearing, sight, touch, taste and smell; as well as a general integration of Psychology 1 topics from a biological foundation.
  3. General Cognitive-Based Psychology This course introduces the basic precepts found in cognitive psychology with relationship to human perception and attention; short and long term memory, languages and the notion of human thought. Cognition as science and neuropsychology are introduced.
  4. General Behavior-Based Psychology Students learn the elements of behavioral psychology; the concepts of conditioning, animal behavior, the psychology of human motivation and behavioral modification.

4 Upper Division Psychology Course Examples (Typically enrollment is reserved for psychology majors, students with upper division standing or those who have completed prerequisite courses.)

  1. Clinical Psychology This course typically focuses on the source, components and treatment modalities of psychological disorders. It applies biological factors, social components and psychological abnormalities to further an understanding of human behavior.
  2. Developmental Psychology The student of this course is given a thorough overview of the field of developmental psychology. The focus areas include: development of language, elements of social factors and development, as well as cognition.
  3. Social Psychology This class defines social psychology--past and present. It examines classic roots and findings, human perception and attitude, the social influence of stereotypes, widespread perception, the dynamics of group behavior, the interaction of personality types with respective environments, and prosocial tendencies.
  4. Cognitive Psychology Cognitive psychology explores from a scientific perspective how mental processes work: mainly how individuals communicate thought, ideas and information; perceive their environments; obtain, mentally catalog and store ideas and experiences; solve problems; arrive at decisions; reason in a logical manner and exercise creative expression.

Where Do I Get my BA in Psychology?

One of the most exciting decisions you will make as a student is what onsite university or online college you will attend. Many factors will influence your consideration processes: the location, convenience, reputation of the institution, family input, affordability and likelihood of acceptance; to name of few. While these are important, personal and unique elements of your decision making process, one of the most important questions you can ask is: "Is this college accredited?"  The answer  is vitally important because in order for you to succeed in the field of psychology (or many other fields as well) you must have attended an institution, college or university which has been accredited.

What is accreditation? A United States on-site or online college is said to be “accredited” when it has been investigated by and earned approval from various nationally recognized accrediting associations and agencies. These regional and national agencies are governed by two entities:

(1) The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)

(2) The United States Department of Education (USDE)

CHEA publishes on its website a list of approved accreditors as does the USDE in its database of listings of approved accreditation agencies. In addition to being the “watchdogs” of the watchdogs, so to speak; both CHEA and the USDE provide access to their listings of the names of accredited colleges. The USDE database gives visitors not only the list of accredited colleges but also provides vital college-related information which can be helpful to the evaluation process. CHEA also has a database or list of accredited institutions and like the USDE, is a resource of essential information for the college bound. It is essential to keep in mind the importance of attending a college which has been accredited. The accreditation of a college can provide assurances that your Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology will be marketable and accepted by other degree-granting institutions (should you want to pursue another degree) and by government sector, private and business employers.

Learn more about psychology schools and an online psychology degree.

What Can I Do With My BA in Psychology?

The psychology careers available to one with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology are as diversified and creative as the person who holds it. Typically, there are two reasons students choose to major in psychology: they want to go further in the field of psychology or they want an educational foundation which affords them an understanding of human behavior and cognitive processes for a job in business, sales etc.

Ways to Use a BA in Psychology Outside of the Field

Using a BA in Psychology for other careers need not be as challenging as one might assume. A solid understanding of human motivation and behavior can provide an excellent foundation for a plethora of meaningful careers. In fact, human resource experts agree that applicants with a BA in Psychology are extremely desirable in the hiring process for a variety of positions, as well as viable candidates for a career in the HR department itself. We had the opportunity to consult with one of the world’s most prominent HR experts about how employers perceive applicants with a BA in Psychology and how the field of HR might as well be an employment option.

12Mikaela Kiner: One of the leading-edge experts in the field of Human Resources is Mikaela Kiner who spent almost two decades in corporate HR and now heads an HR consulting firm in Seattle. Ms. Kiner's prestigious HR leadership roles include being Senior HR Manager at Microsoft; Partner Resource Manager at Starbucks; Director, HR at Amazon and currently the Founder and CEO of "uniquelyHR."

She expressed to us the value of a BA in Psychology; “During my time at large companies including Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks, I saw these employers looking for psychology degrees. Knowledge of psychology is an advantage when working with senior leaders, or trying to boost employee engagement and morale.” Ms. Kiner also shared that a BA in psychology can lead to a future in Human Resources, "Historically, people came into HR from all walks of life. Often it was their experience vs. education that made candidates successful in HR roles. While HR is about business and analytics, it is equally important to understand people’s thought processes and styles. Knowledge of psychology is an advantage when working with senior leaders, or trying to boost employee engagement and morale." Her advice to someone with a BA in Psychology considering a career in Human Resources is, "The job seeker should understand and be able to articulate the value of that degree relative to the job he/she is applying for. Candidates should in no way be apologetic - Psychology is as related to HR as a degree in HR, Business or Finance. Learn about the role, tailor your resume, and be prepared to talk about how your education, skills and experience make you the right candidate for the role."

A "Sweet" Success Story

Brandon Baker, a markedly successful entrepreneur and Founder of the Loveletter Cakeshop on 5th Avenue in New York City, is one example of how a BA in Psychology led to success in an unrelated field. He shares, “In 2010 I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with an undergraduate degree in Psychology. I applied to Penn wanting to major in business at Wharton, but quickly changed paths and fell in love with the human mind. I realized how many human problems and achievements both came as a simple result of attitude and perseverance, and I wanted to understand how these came about from a scientific perspective. Naturally, given my new found love of Psychology and science in general, I wanted to become a professor. Fast forward five years and I chose a different path, but the application is the same. The beauty of a psychology degree is its wide breadth of application. Sure, if you're interested in teaching others about the power and limitations of the human brain, you become a professor. But applying that power and understanding those limitations will help you navigate whichever career path you choose. If you're a college student looking to major in Psychology, and your interest in it stems from a genuine love of the human mind, your choice will deliver value again and again, regardless of your chosen career later in life.

Staying in the Field of Psychology

In order to become a psychologist, counselor, therapist or social worker; a student must progress beyond the Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. Those wanting a professional career in the field of psychology will have to pursue the applicable Masters Degrees and/or a Ph.D./Psy.D., in order to qualify for work in a clinical setting. Scholars who aspire to be a recognized and funded researcher in the field, or a professor at an institution of higher learning will eventually want to consider the Doctorate in Psychology.

13Dr. Katherine Loflin is an award-winning international expert, speaker, global leader in placemaking, consultant and two-time TEDx speaker. Having been featured in prominent print, radio and television exposés, Dr. Loflin (also known as the “City Doctor”) is the founder of Loflin Solutions and the author of the upcoming, “Place Match: The City Doctor’s Guide to Finding Where You Belong.”

Dr. Loflin is one example of someone who entered the collegiate world and realized that she would need to move beyond the BA in Psychology if she were to reach her goals. She reflects upon her time as an undergraduate; “I entered college as undesignated, but soon moved into a psychology major. I was interested in the subject and thought it would hold my attention throughout college. I also hoped to do something with the degree but realized with just an undergraduate degree in psychology it would likely not be enough to base a career. As I went through the program, I learned what a solid orientation it gave me for a variety of disciplines and careers I could pursue. “ She advises those interested in an advanced psychology career; “Realize that a BA will likely not be enough to do what you want to do as a career. Graduate school may be necessary, especially if you intend to stay in the human services field. Think broadly about how you can use your degree to do the thing you most want. Remember there are new jobs being developed everyday that didn’t exist 10 years ago. Mine didn’t! With a psych degree, you can start to create the career you want.”

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Summary

  • A BA in Psychology is a degree which takes between 3-5 years to earn.
  • There will be General Education Requirements as well as those determined by the Psychology Department.
  • Some students prefer to get their GERs met at a city or community college.
  • Before enrolling in any college (community, city or degree-granting), a prudent student will check the USDE and CHEA websites to confirm the school’s accreditation status.
  • Utilize the Admissions Office at the desired degree-granting institution for assistance.
  • A BA in Psychology is the first step to an advanced career in the field of psychology.
  • The BA in Psychology can provide a foundation for non-related career fields like Human Resources.