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Should I Major in Mind-reading: Perspective from a Psychology Major

My high school offered one Psychology course. Admittedly, I enrolled because, before the word “Psychology,” preceded the infamous letter combination: AP. I shouldn’t complain – most public high schools lack the funds for courses that don’t fulfill pre-college requisites. I enrolled partially due to curiosity but, like I said, primarily to add one more “AP’’ on my transcript. I was told that, to be accepted into a top tier school, at least three qualified you as a candidate. This idea, like many of the stepping stones in the route to college that were set out for me by adults who had outdated and misinformed expectations, turned out to be complete bullshit. But that rant is for another article.

I learned pretty quickly that my teacher was a jerk, but was brilliant at his job. We began each class with a psychological exercise or experiment (think the Color Memory experiment or the Coke vs. Pepsi taste test). The rest of the time was primarily note-taking, but the content was fascinating. Despite my teacher’s implicit sexism and ironic disdain for children, I found myself actually looking forward to school. So as my friends struggled to find what exactly they wanted to commit their next four years to after college (and, in the big scheme of things, I suppose their whole lives), I had fulfilled every Psychology major requirement by the end of my sophomore year.

I was the exception, not the rule. Having suffered from my own struggles with mental illnesses, studying the origin and development of psychological disorders helped me humanize and understand my own. When I finally made it to the college of my dreams, however, I was the rule and not the exception. Psychology was one of the most popular majors at my school, just as it has grown to be across the nation. When I tell people I am majoring in Psychology; however, I sometimes get “the look.” The look comes from Econ majors or Chem majors who spent the four years that are supposedly the best four years of our lives studying numbers because they were told they had to. A Psych major is a waste of time, a black hole that no career and no money will ever come out of. I pity the people who give me the look because it generally implies envy. More importantly, it implies ignorance. The point of college is not to major in a subject that somebody else chose for you, but rather to take advantage of the opportunity to surround yourself by other’s who share the same passion as you. If you’re still having second thoughts, here’s how I’ve responded to the three primary critiques for specializing in mind reading:

A psychology major will greatly limit your career options

Backlash will come from an economic-centric society that values numbers, especially those with six figures. Partially thanks to Leonardo Dicaprio, everyone wants to be on Wall Street, and the only way to get there is majoring in Economics. False. Psychology isn’t limited to listening to a woman lying on a couch venting about her marriage, nor does it a methodology of reading a stranger’s mind. Psychology can be split into two overarching fields: research and practice. Research is relatively self-explanatory, and practice is the way in which said research is applied in the real world. Within these major areas are __ subfields:

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  • abnormal psychology
  • behavioral psychology
  • Biopsychology
  • clinical psychology
  • cognitive psychology
  • comparative psychology
  • counseling psychology
  • cross-cultural psychology
  • developmental psychology
  • educational psychology
  • experimental psychology
  • forensic psychology
  • health psychology
  • industrial-organizational psychology
  • personality psychology
  • social psychology
  • sports psychology

Immensely limited, right? For more information about each subfield, go ahead and check out https://www.verywell.com/major-branches-of-psychology-4139786. Outside of the subfields, there are additional psychology-based careers such as behavioral economics which applies a psychological analysis of human behavior to economic trends. WHo said you couldn’t have both?

The careers within each subfield are extensive. If you decide you do want to pursue counseling and therapy, you can do so with a wide variety of clients: children, adults, married couples, families, students, career considering individuals, athletes, and men and women suffering from countless mental illnesses. You can enter the criminal arena and become a forensic psychologist. You can enter the med world and pursue a career in neuropsychology. You can choose to never leave the classroom and become a psychology professor. Or you can major in Economics and be limited to a life of strictly numbers and figures.

You won’t make a dime

This one is comedic. The average individual with a psychology degree in the United States makes a little over $62,000 annually. Psychiatrists who specialize in the assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illnesses make an average of $177,250 annually. Compared to the average mid-career salary of $94,900 this seems pretty good.

A career as a therapist is depressing.

A career as a therapist is hard. If you enter the counseling, therapy, or psychiatrist field, you are dealing one-on-one with clients and patients who came to you because they are seeking help. It’s challenging and humbling and sometimes sad. It’s also rewarding, meaningful, and often times life-changing. Regardless which of the above subfields you choose to pursue, the end result is helping another individual and even, in some cases, saving their lives. I would argue that a career as a therapist spent in a room designed purely to provide a space as comfortable as possible during hours you often times get to delegate yourself is significantly less depressing than working a 9 to 5 in a stiff suit in a cubicle with about as much legroom as a plane. But that’s just my personal opinion.

Disclaimer

A career in psychology isn’t smooth sailing. Working in the mental health industry can be stressful, and if you do poorly under pressure, this may not be the path for you. Additionally, many careers involve obtaining a more specific Masters Degree in graduate school. Grad school is another major blow to your bank account and an additional two to four years of your life. That being said, I don’t regret a second of my path towards a B.A. in Psychology. There are plenty of fields to enter with solely a bachelor’s degree, and plenty of ways to still change someone’s life for the better. I may not end up on Wall Street, but it in no way is my choice in major that is the reason for that.

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Zoe Tierney, B.A. Psychology
Zoe Tierney, B.A. Psychology

Zoe Tierney currently resides in Palo Alto, California. She is a Creative Writing Minor and a Psychology Major with an emphasis on Social Psychology and Child Development at Colgate University. After University, Zoe plans on attending graduate school with the intention of entering the field of adolescent psychology as a counselor or occupational therapist.

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