A desire to help people, as well as earn an above average income are two motivating factors that drive people to join the field of psychology. According to the United States Bureau of Labor, the average salary is nearly $70,000 annually, and demand in the field is expected to be strong over the next ten years.
Prior to launching into education and training in psychology, you will first have to determine what area of the field you want to specialize in, as there are many different types of psychologists. Some of the different career paths include private practice, industrial psychology, school psychology, sports psychology and many others. Within these fields, there are subsets of specialization, as in being in private practice, you may prefer to deal with children, marriage counseling, or addictions, as examples.
Most states have laws on the books as to who can call themselves a psychologist, and set specific requirements for licensing that applies to that state.
Once you have established what the rules are in your own state, you can set about planning your education and training. It won’t hurt to start as early as high school; taking life science courses will prepare you for the educational courses you are most likely to study during your undergraduate program in college.
Biology, chemistry, and anatomy are good core courses to get you started. Learning about human history and behavior will also be helpful, and high school curricula that focus on these topics include history and philosophy. Work with your high school guidance counselor and teachers so that they understand your goals and can help you with your planning; look for volunteer opportunities in your community that will help you understand human behavior. Get good grades, good recommendations from your teachers, and apply to the college or university of your choice.
At the start of your first year in college, meet with your academic adviser to plan coursework that is beneficial to your area of interest. If you are at a large university, it is likely there are research programs that you can volunteer for to gain some practical experience.
As your studies progress, you will start to get a clearer understanding of which specific segments of psychology are of more interest than others, and at this point, your studies may shift a bit to have emphasis on courses more relevant to your passion in the field.
Maintain as high of a GPA as possible, as graduate schools for psychology can have very competitive entrance requirements. Try and establish great relationships with your instructors; their letters of recommendation will be helpful for your grad school applications.
When evaluating graduate schools, you will have to decide whether you want to pursue a Masters, Doctorate, or other degree. Part of this decision is going to be dependent on what your career choice is, as well as the state requirements for being licensed as a psychologist.
In graduate school, again, it will be helpful to sign up for research programs as a volunteer, and also consider becoming a teaching assistant. If your program requires a thesis or dissertation as a graduation requirement, you should start thinking about that project from your very first day of graduate school
As you enter your final years of study, you will begin applying for practical training, residencies, if your state requires that before licensing. Your final step will be to take a licensing exam, if your state requires one. Exams can contain both written and oral segments.
Years of hard study, dedication, and now you are ready to enter the field. A field where you are being compensated nicely financially, but also receiving the reward of knowing you are helping people.