BY Isabel Peña AlfaroOctober 19, 2022, 2:35 PM
At the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” rally in Lansing, Mich., In September 2022. (Photographer: Emily Elconin — Bloomberg / Getty Images)
As you drive to work or to the grocery store, your decisions are influenced by someone with a background in psychology. Applied psychology is behind the auto manufacturer’s design of the dashboard so that you, the driver, can operate the vehicle safely and minimize distraction. And automotive design isn’t the only product or process influenced by psychology; every job and career path has an element of psychology.
“We often describe psychology as a hub science, and what that means is there are interconnections with other fields,” says Karen Stamm, director of the Center for Workforce Studies at the American Psychological Association.
Just as the applications for psychology are wide-ranging, so too are salaries. Among US students who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, about 17% of these grads earned at least $ 90,000 in 2019, according to the American Psychological Association. People with advanced degrees can earn even more. For example, students in the online master’s degree program in the 2020–21 class at Pepperdine University reported postgrad salaries of up to $ 200,000.
While salaries differ based on geographic location, level of expertise, and certifications, there are various ways that psychology majors can land a six-figure salary. Increasingly, psychology grads can nab these high-paying jobs without pursuing a Ph.D. or an advanced degree. Here’s how.
Pair a psychology degree with another field to earn more
Psychology-related jobs that pay a salary of at least $ 100,000 are typically in business. Some of those positions include…
- Human factors engineers, who create and design tools, machines, and systems
- Business process consultants, who format workflows
- Change management directors, who implement changes within institutional structures
- Human resources directors, who plan employee policies and programs for organizations
Most of the above roles require knowledge in another field. For example, human factors engineers require a background in engineering, as well as a strong understanding of human psychology. The average human factors engineer salary in the US is about $ 113,000, according to ZipRecruiter.
Another high-paying role that draws on a psychology background is a user experience (UX) researcher, whose role is to translate research and turn it into design and product recommendations for websites and apps. People in this role develop research plans, communicate the value of the research, and deliver insights for added business value, and the median salary for a UX researcher is also $ 113,000, according to ZipRecruiter.
It’s hard to find people who can understand and manipulate statistics, unearth the significance of data, communicate its meaning effectively to other team members or stakeholders, and then find actionable insights, Stamm notes. Statistics courses are required for most psychology programs.
“The combination of people who understand the [computer] programming side and the methods of scientific inquiry that are grounded in a field like psychology is a really valuable, and rare, common combination, ”Stamm adds.
Choosing a degree to go along with psychology is not a one-size-fits-all decision. And the best degree to pursue along with psychology depends on individual preference, according to Sue Harbor, associate dean and executive director of the Career Center at the University of California, Berkeley. If psychology graduates articulate what they learned from their degree and pair their psychology education with exposure to other fields, they are eligible for a variety of roles that may seem to be outside the realm of psychology — which include coding, UX design, and UX research , Harbor notes.
Surge in mental health roles is driving salary gains
There’s greater awareness of the value of psychology as a practice, according to Stamm, as well as the role of mental health, well-being, and wellness in schools, businesses, and organizations alike. In turn, that’s creating more roles for psychology graduates — and netting them higher salaries.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic and its repercussions on people’s mental health, compounded with the current candidate-led job market, companies have placed greater emphasis on providing mental health benefits for employees. “There are about 2.7 times more job postings offering mental health benefits in 2021 compared to 2019,” says Sinem Buber, lead economist at ZipRecruiter. “Companies are going the extra mile to make the job more attractive in the middle of labor shortages.”
Startups, such as Teladoc and Minded, and national pharmacy chains, including CVS and Walgreens, are increasingly offering mental health counseling and even psychiatry to make mental health services available for a wider range of people. These trends are driving a surge in mental health jobs and salaries, according to Buber.
Grads who understand human behavior will be ‘very well positioned’ for the future
To position yourself for a career path that will lead to a salary of $ 100,000 or more, begin by looking for roles in business that require psychology skills. Roles in mental health are another viable route. Articulating your understanding of psychology and statistics will make you a strong fit for the role, according to Stamm.
“People who have an understanding of behavior and the scientific method — and interpersonal relationships that are strongly foundational in psychology — will be very well positioned for the future,” Stamm adds.
See how the schools you’re considering fared in Fortune’s rankings of the best master’s degree programs in data science (in-person and online), nursing, computer science, cybersecurity, psychology, public health, and business analytics, as well as doctorate in education programs and MBA programs (part-time, executive, full-time, and online).