Assessing Student Interest and Familiarity with Professional Psychology Specialty Areas

By Stark-Wroblewski, Kimberly; Wiggins, Tina L. et al. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, December 2006 | Go to article overview

Assessing Student Interest and Familiarity with Professional Psychology Specialty Areas


Stark-Wroblewski, Kimberly, Wiggins, Tina L., Ryan, Joseph J., Journal of Instructional Psychology


The present study examined undergraduate psychology students' (N = 83) self-reported interest in and familiarity with five specialty areas in professional psychology: counseling psychology, clinical psychology, school psychology, forensic psychology, and criminal profiling. Results suggest that although students are quite interested in careers that combine psychology and law, their level of familiarity with such careers fails short of their interest level. Based on these findings, psychology programs should consider providing more information to students about careers in professional psychology, particularly regarding careers that combine psychology and law.

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Several studies have examined students' knowledge of psychology; however, these investigations have primarily focused on assessing misconceptions regarding the content domain of psychology, particularly the extent to which students endorse commonly held beliefs or myths regarding psychology (e.g., Gardner & Dalsing, 1986; Griggs & Ransdell, 1987; Landau & Bavaria, 2003; Ruble, 1986; Vaughn, 1977). In contrast, relatively little attention has been given to examining students' knowledge of psychology as a profession. Results of the few studies that have been conducted in this area suggest that undergraduate psychology students may have limited knowledge of and/or hold inaccurate beliefs about the profession of psychology (e.g., Gallucci, 1997; Rosenthal, McKnight, & Price, 2001; Rosenthal, Soper, Rachal, McKnight, & Price, 2004). For instance, research suggests that students often underestimate the amount of time it takes to complete doctoral study and overestimate starting salaries for psychology graduates (Galluci, 1997; Nauta, 2000). In addition, it appears that students frequently underestimate the qualifications necessary to become a professional psychologist (Rosenthal et al., 2001). Although Rosenthal et al. (2004) found evidence to suggest that the completion of psychology courses may help correct some of the misconceptions that students have about professional psychology, these authors noted that even "sophisticated" students (i.e., those who had completed five or more psychology courses) continue to harbor erroneous beliefs about the profession.

As noted by Kuther (2004), although there are many career opportunities within the field of psychology, students appear to be increasingly interested in careers that combine psychology and law. This field is growing rapidly, as evidenced by the recent publication of a number of journals dedicated to the area and the formation of professional organizations devoted to psychology and law. Joint-degree programs have also been created which allow students to earn degrees in law while earning doctoral degrees in psychology (Kuther, 2004). Such programs are becoming widely accepted (Woody, 2003). With evidence of a growing interest in this emerging interdisciplinary field, it is important to assess whether students' knowledge and level of interest in the field are commensurate with one another.

With this in mind, this study examined students' interest in and familiarity with professional specialty areas of psychology, including forensic psychology. Because effective career decision-making rests upon having accurate career-related information, it is important to determine whether students are adequately familiar with the specialty areas of psychological practice in which they are most interested. Armed with such information, faculty members would be better equipped to assist students majoring in psychology with career-related decisions. It was anticipated that students would demonstrate greater interest in forensic areas of psychology as compared to the more traditional specialty areas (e.g., counseling, clinical, and school psychology). It was also anticipated that students would report greater interest in, as compared to familiarity with, forensic specialty areas. …

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