At a recent town hall event, Jeb Bush said that psych majors “end up working at Chick-fil-A.” He went on to add that, “I just don’t think people are getting jobs as psych majors.” As a fully employed former psychology major, I have to say I resent that. In fact, I’ve written before on how to turn your psych major into a lucrative career, demonstrating that it’s entirely possible to find employment outside the retail sector. But that doesn’t mean that getting a job with a bachelor’s in psychology is easy.
(Photo: Kayla Hill)
Many skills learned in the process of getting a psych degree translate to a variety of different types of jobs and industries: critical thinking, communication, statistical analysis, the ability to conduct and synthesize large quantities of research quickly, the desire to understand complex concepts, and the curiosity to keep asking, “why?” It may take some additional coursework post-graduation to get there, but it’s entirely possible to get a job as a Data Analyst, Marketing Assistant, or HR Manager.
However, what I think Jeb Bush was trying to get at (but bungled in a most unfortunate way), is that psychology majors are among the top 10 most underemployed majors in the United States. Combine that with the fact that millennials are more likely to be underemployed than any other generation (46 percent versus baby boomers’ 44 percent and Gen X’s 40 percent), and we have a lot of young, inexperienced B.A.-carrying psych majors working lower-wage jobs such as Daycare Teachers, Nannies, and Patient Service Representatives while trying to pay off an unprecedented amount of looming college debt.
So was he wrong to say that psych majors end up working at Chick-fil-A? Although his delivery could have been (much) better, his underlying concern that many college students are getting bachelor’s degrees in majors that don’t lead directly to careers that pay a living wage — often without realizing the repercussions until four years later — is a valid one.
In that case, should we abandon psych majors completely? I still say no. Instead, students considering majoring in psychology (or any social science) should think about the possible ROI on the degree in question, and ask themselves the following questions before committing:
- What kinds of jobs can I get with this degree? What kind of industry do I want to work in?
- What additional coursework inside and outside of psychology should I take now to better prepare myself for these kinds of jobs?
- Will the kind of work I want to do require an advanced degree? What’s my backup plan in case I change my mind and decide to stick with a bachelor’s degree?*
- Can I do anything now to gain real-world experience (such as volunteer work) that will give me a competitive edge post-graduation?
Additionally, psychology departments and university career centers need to place a greater emphasis on helping students prepare for bachelor’s-level employment. Career awareness and exploration should start early, and students should be encouraged to take interdepartmental coursework in programming, the sciences, communication, marketing, business, or whatever best fits their interests. A broad, intersectional knowledge base can help a psych major stand out in a sea of resumes as well as create new, unique opportunities and career paths.
To ensure that all students (not just psych majors!) are properly equipped post-graduation to find the right jobs for them, we need to see change at an institutional and departmental level, and students need to carefully consider whether the major they choose will help them get into the field of their choice.
*This happened to me. I went through 3.5 years of college assuming I would go on to get my master’s degree in counseling … only to decide I wanted to try the job market instead. A lot can change in four years. Be open and prepared to explore new options.
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