Psychology as a Profession: An Effective Career Exploration and Orientation Course for Undergraduate Psychology Majors

Article excerpt

The authors describe an undergraduate psychology course that covers academic advising and career planning. Lectures included choosing a major, job opportunities with a bachelor's degree, applying to graduate school, and guest lectures from professionals in psychology-related careers. Students completed a plan of study, a résumé, and a career exploration paper. Students evaluated the course and assignments as being moderately high in value and recommended that the course continue to be required for psychology majors. Nearly all students (93%) either changed their career plans or felt more confident about their plans after taking the course. Recommendations for implementing a similar course are provided.

Many undergraduates enroll in psychology programs with the aspiration of becoming a licensed clinical psychologist, but graduate school admission rates are extremely competitive and only 6 % of applicants to clinical psychology programs are accepted (Norcross, Sayette, Mayne, Karg, & Turkson, 1998). As a result, psychology majors need to consider alternative career paths. To inform students about the range of career options, psychology departments have offered career fairs, psychology clubs, and orientation-to-the-major courses (Dillinger & Landrum, 2002; Lattal, 1980; Satterfield & Abramson, 1998; Zechmeister & Helkowski, 2001).

Course Overview

For more than 20 years, the West Virginia University Psychology Department has required that prepsychology majors pass a one-credit Psychology as a Profession course. The class, with approximately 120 to 200 students, meets once per week for 50 minutes. Originally, the course was intended to facilitate adusing meetings between students and faculty members by educating prepsychology majors about departmental graduation requirements. Over the years, the course has evolved to fulfill the following goals: (a) help students decide whether or not to major in psychology, (b) inform students about undergraduate psychology courses and enrichment opportunities, (c) introduce students to psychology-related career options and graduate school opportunities, and (d) help students acquire skills and knowledge to achieve career goals. Weekly lectures were as follows: "How to Choose a Major and Career: Identify Your Skills, Values, and Interests," "Should I Major in Psychology?" "The Four-Year Plan: Psychology Graduation Requirements," "Making the Most of Your Undergraduate Years: Organizations and Opportunities," "Job Opportunities With a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology," "How to Write a Good Résumé," "First Steps to Finding a Job: Interviewing and Job Searching," "Job Opportunities With a Master's or Doctoral Degree in Psychology," "Job Opportunities in Psychology-Related Fields: Social Work, Law, Medicine, Etc.," and "How to Apply to Graduate School."

Lectures were presented on PowerPoint slides. (Copies of the slides are available upon request from the first author.) In addition to the faculty-taught lectures described above, we also included guest lectures from professionals who discussed their career experiences, offered advice, and answered students' questions. We allotted three or four class meetings for guest lecture presentations. We scheduled guest speakers from a variety of psychology-related backgrounds from year to year. For example, in one semester, we invited a bachelor's-level therapist who worked at a mental health clinic, a master's-level clinical psychologist who worked in private practice, a doctoral-level clinical psychologist who specialized in pain management, and a forensic identification expert.

Students were required to attend a minimum of 12 class meetings and complete three out-of-class assignments. The first assignment, the 4-year plan, involved completion of the psychology department's advising booklet, in which the student planned courses to meet graduation requirements for either a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science psychology degree. …