Psychology is a dynamic field filled with opportunities. The best psychology schools prepare their students for future work as licensed clinical psychologists — after they earn a PhD or a PsyD — or for work in any of more than a dozen other jobs that rely on excellent education in the field of psychology.
Most psychology majors won’t go on to earn a doctor’s degree so they can practice as clinicians. But even with a BS in psychology, there are well-paid positions with growing job opportunities. Here are some examples we gathered from statistics published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)::
- Human resources specialists with at least a BS in psychology entering the job market in 2021 will earn an average annual salary of $61,920. The BLS predicts 7% growth in job opportunities from 2020 through 2029
- Market research analysts with at least a BS in psychology entering the job market in 2021 will earn an average annual salary of $63,790. The BLS predicts 28% growth in job opportunities from 2020 through 2029
- Probation officers with at least a BS in psychology entering the job market in 2021 will earn an average annual salary of $54,290. The BLS predicts 7% growth in job opportunities from 2020 through 2029
- Rehabilitation counselors with at least a BS in psychology entering the job market in 2021 will earn an average annual salary of $35,950. The BLS predicts 10% growth in job opportunities from 2020 through 2029
- School and career counselors with at least a BS in psychology entering the job market in 2021 will earn an average annual salary of $54,020. The BLS predicts 8% growth in job opportunities from 2020 through 2029
- Social and community services managers with at least a BS in psychology entering the job market in 2021 will earn an average annual salary of $67,900. The BLS predicts 17% growth in job opportunities from 2020 through 2029
- Substance abuse counselors with at least a BS in psychology entering the job market in 2021 will earn an average annual salary of $46,240. The BLS predicts 25% growth in job opportunities from 2020 through 2029
- Training and development specialists with at least a BS in psychology entering the job market in 2021 will earn an average annual salary of $61,290. The BLS predicts 9% growth in job opportunities from 2020 through 2029
For all of these careers, a bachelor’s degree from one of the best psychology schools is your entry ticket to interview for a job. But we need to spend a little time covering the differences between a BA in psychology from the best schools of psychology and a BS in psychology from the best schools in psychology.
Generally, a Bachelor of Arts or BA degree is earned after completing a program that emphasizes liberal arts education. You’ll take at least a course in fine arts. You will show proficiency in a foreign language. You won’t study as much math or science and you won’t have courses in research design or experimental psychology. A few of the Ivy League universities and their counterparts on the West Coast don’t offer anything but BA degrees to undergraduate psychology majors and may have more rigorous course requirements, but a BA is usually for preparation to do something that isn’t directly related to psychology.
A Bachelor of Science or BS degree is earned after completing a program that includes more experimental psych courses, more math, more courses in data analysis or data science, and more statistics. These courses don’t develop therapy skills. They help you interact with managers, planners, executives, and academic researchers in psychology. The coursework for a BS gives you a better foundation for data-heavy careers in psychology, while a BA allows you to pursue courses that allow you to grow your soft or people skills.
We can’t overemphasize the importance of getting real-world experience while you are still an undergraduate. Your university may make opportunities in organizations that provide therapy and rehabilitation available to you. But don’t overlook opportunities to work in industrial or organizational psychology. You might find yourself, for instance, consulting a medical device maker to tailor a sales campaign to doctors who have hesitation about learning to use a new piece of diagnostic equipment.
Or you might want to get an internship with an organization that provides support services to people in recovery from addiction to alcohol, drugs, sex, the Internet, or food. You may be able to devise a program that gets you certification with the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and a license to work in rehabilitation anywhere in the United States.
Or you might find yourself in an internship in the growing field of telehealth. Combine your knowledge of psychology with radio-TV-film skills, cybersecurity, or programming to qualify for a great job that doesn’t require you to spend four or five years after you graduate in graduate school working on a PhD.
All of the programs we list here are great options for getting a BA or a BS in psychology. We have listed the average net cost per year for each program. That’s the tuition and fees students actually pay while they are in the program, not the stated cost of tuition (which can be a lot higher). We’ll add some details on our ranking methodology at the end of this article. For now, just scroll through these programs from the best schools for psychology to get to know some of the possibilities for your undergraduate psychology studies. Remember that costs can go up, COVID is causing delays in travel and internship opportunities, and every university’s psychology program is constantly changing, so double check important points before making your final decision about the college admission offers you will accept.
|1||Stanford University||Stanford, California|
|2||University of California||Berkeley, California|
|3||University of Illinois||Urbana-Champaign|
|4||Vanderbilt University||Nashville, Tennessee|
|5||University of Texas||Austin, Texas|
Best Colleges for Psychology
No undergraduate program in psychology is more rigorous than Stanford’s. Students need 70 credits to graduate. But as the complete those 70 credits, they gain internationally recognized competencies in the department’s specializations
University of California
UCLA houses its psychology department in its College of Life Sciences. Students take a core curriculum in psychology and then specialize in areas such as , animal behavior, learning and memory,psychobiology motivation, measurement, personality, perception, cognition, and clinical, social, developmental, community, and health psychology. UCLA is famed for courses such as the Psychology of Sleep and Dreams, Brain Bugs: Understanding the Brain Through Its Flaws, and Brain, Mind, and Motion Pictures. Future PhD students have many opportunities to participate in ongoing research projects and the university’s undergraduate research journal.
- Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, Bachelor of Science in Cognitive Science, Bachelor of Science in Psychobiology
University of Illinois
The undergraduate psychology program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign covers both human and animal behavior from a quantitatively rigorous, observation-driven point of view. There is a heavy emphasis on statistical methodology and strong academic research technique. But students can get hands-on experience with a year-long community service project and with studies and internships at nearby prisons and mental health facilities.
When you graduate from Vanderbilt, there is no doubt that you know the basic principles of psychology. Every graduating senior in Vanderbilt’s undergraduate psychology program takes a comprehensive exam their senior year. Grades are not displayed on your transcript,, but you will have to demonstrate that you know the basics of the field before you graduate. Vanderbilt offers online and hybrid classroom models to accommodate busy schedules and restrictions related to the COVID epidemic.
University of Texas
No university in the United States has a thicker course catalog than UT Austin. No matter what you want to study, chances are high that UT offers a course in it.The University of Texas at Austin is just one of four accredited colleges in the United States that regularly prepares students for work as Licensed Professional Counselors without a PhD degree. See our page on Masters in Clinical Psychology for more information.
Carnegie Mellon University
Carnegie Mellon University is famous for research employing rigorous quantitative techniques. The undergraduate psychology program houses a department of Cognitive Psychology, housing programs in Cognitive Neuroscience; Developmental Psychology; and Social/Personality/Health Psychology. Students can focus on psychosocial effects on health or look at the psychology of individual differences. Or they may find themselves doing computational modeling of psychological processes or language learning with students in engineering and math they see every day in their college. Carnegie Mellon is not the college of your dreams if you are math- or science-phobit, but it is a great place to study the intersection of data analysis and psychology.
University of Michigan
The University of Michigan is famous for its expertise in survey research. Every two years, the university sponsors a nationwide Social Science Survey that is a benchmark study for American behavior and culture. Students in its undergraduate psychology program can earn degrees from the Psychology or Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience (BCN) departments, with an emphasis on computational methods and research expertise. Many students entering the program get AP credit for the first course in psychology, but if you do, you should expect to start taking statistics and/or math in your first semester on campus.
Columbia has one of the most influential psychology departments in the United States, and internship and employment opportunities from its location in Manhattan are unmatched in the world. Undergraduate students are expected to study three areas of psychology: Perception & Cognition, Biopsychology & Neuroscience, and Social, Personality, and Abnormal Psychology. Additionally, students take an elective course integrating psychology with some other discipline or in addictive behavior, the psychology of early childhood, mathematical modeling or data science, psychology and the law, or any of hundreds of other courses the university offers. Every undergraduate psychology major also must fulfill a seminar requirement.
Arizona State University
Arizona State offers undergraduate degrees in psychology on two tracks. The Bachelor of Arts program emphasizes scientific principles of psychology without giving students the quantitative skills to manage Big Data and to do statistical and computational models of behavior, and the Bachelor of Science program incorporates math, statistics, computing, and data science to approach psychology from a quantitative point of view. Both BA and BS psychology majors have many opportunities for internships through the university.
Arizona State’s psychology department carefully monitors each undergraduate student’s progress toward employment or placement in a graduate program throughout their undergraduate years. Students in their sixth semester (beginning of their junior year) are expected to use the university’s Handshake app to begin looking for employment opportunities, and seniors are expected to be prepared for employment or graduate school.
University of California
UC Irvine’s undergraduate psychology program emphasizes hard, scientific skills over soft, counseling skills. Students can take courses from the Department of Psychological Science for specializations in sports psychology, health psychology, developmental psychology, personality studies, social psychology, or psychology and the law. They can take courses from the Department of Cognitive Sciences in cognitive neuroscience, auditory and vision research, language sciences, cognitive development, computational and mathematical modeling, and cognitive robotics.
Undergraduate psychology students at Cornell specialize in perception, cognition and development, behavioral and evolutionary neuroscience; or social and personality psychology. There are many opportunities for joining researchers both at the main campus in Ithaca and at the Weill School of Medicine in New York City. Cornell University also offers an opportunity to combine a major in psychology with a major in cognitive science.
University of Southern
The undergraduate psychology program at USC is intended to prepare students for graduate school. Every student takes courses in research design and the statistics and data science skills to use them, and does coursework in at least for of the following five areas:
- Clinical (including abnormal psychology and mind-body connection).
- Cognitive (including learning and memory as well as cognitive therapy).
- Developmental (including geriatric issues).
- Psychobiology (including addiction studies).
- Social (an introductory course in social psychology).
- BA in Psychology
Yale states that its undergraduate psychology major is a foundation for careers in education and research; law; medicine and public health, politics and public policy, as well as for business fields such as non-profit management, marketing, finance, and corporate administration. The university offers numerous placements to internships for future licensed professional counselors and therapists, as well as numerous opportunities to participate in research.
University of North Carolina
The University of North Carolina’s undergraduate psychology major is designed to provide either the depth needed for PhD study in psychology, through their bachelor of science program, or a general understanding of social sciences for futures in medicine, law, or business administration, through their bachelor of arts program. Undergraduate psychology students can apply to the Karen M. Gil Internship Program, which offers a paid internship and course credit. And the university has advisers who can help students prepare for dozens of careers armed with their bachelors in psychology, which you can explore from links on their page What Can I Do with a Major in Psychology?
- Administrative Assistant (Record Clerks)
- Admissions Evaluator
- Affirmative Action Officer
- Advertising Copywriter
- Behavioral Health Technician
- Business Services Officer
- Career Counselor
- Case Manager
- Child Care Specialist
- Clinical Social Worker
- Community Relations Officer
- Customer Inspector
- Day Care Center Supervisor
- Environmental Researcher
- Flight Attendant
- Health Club Assistant Manager
- Health Educator
- Human Resources Assistant
- Insurance Underwriter
- Junior Market Analyst
- Labor Relations Specialist
- Textile Laboratory Assistant
- Market Researcher
- Media Buyer
- Meeting Planner
- Opinion Survey Researcher
- Personnel, Training, & Labor-Relations Specialist
- Probation/Parole Officer
- Professional Employment Recruiter
- Psychiatric Assistant
- Psychiatric Technician
- Psychosocial Rehabilitation Specialist
- Public Statistician
- Real Estate Agent
- Recreation Worker
- Sales Agent
- Social Services Specialist
- Social Worker
- Urban Planning Officer
- Volunteer Services Director
- Wage/Benefits Analyst
- BA or BS in Psychology
There aren’t many universities that offer a course entitled The Psychology of Cyborgs. Princeton also gives its undergraduates opportunities to study the dynamics of cognition, the neurobiology of stress, and the psychology of language. Undergraduate students can earn certificates in linguistics, computing and data science, languages, and gender and sexuality studies. But it’s important to understand that no part of the program at Princeton is remedial. You need to have had math (at least through calculus and statistics) and AP Biology in high school, and you should enter the program with the expectation that it will be a springboard to an academic career after your PhD.
University of Florida
The BS in Psychology program at the University of Florida requires students to take coursework in biology, statistics, and math to support their studies in any of four undergraduate specializations, behavior analysis, behavioral and cognitive neuroscience, and general psychology. It’s possible to write a capstone paper or thesis to earn honors in psychology. This degree is intended to prepare you for further study in the field of psychology, law, public administration, or medicine. The department can arrange internships, and offers a course in how to teach psychology, highly recommended if you expect to get a teaching fellowship to pay for your PhD.
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago’s graduate programs in psychology are renowned around the world. Their undergraduate program is intended for well-prepared students who want to pursue a specialty leading to PhD study early in their careers. Undergraduates have opportunities for in-depth study in biological, developmental, cognitive, and social psychology, as well as in the neurobiology of perception. The university maintains an Undergraduate Research Initiative to give students a head start on their doctoral research programs. But this program may not be the best choice for a student who does not intend to pursue a PhD in psychology.
University of Colorado
The University of Colorado gives undergraduate psychology students a broad introduction to the field of psychology before teaching research methods and experimental psychology in the third and fourth years of the program. The university is famed for its innovative cannabis research programs, using considerable ingenuity to meet federal regulations and restrictions, and for its neuroscience and cognitive science options for undergraduates. If your career plans involve legal applications of cannabis, there is no better program in the United States. But even if you are not interested in cannabis, this program offers excellent preparation for future careers in administration, recreation, labor relations, health education, HR work, advertising, reputation management, public relations, vocational rehabilitation, addiction counseling, research and much more.
You may notice that there are some well-known programs that did not make our rankings of the best psychology schools in the US. That’s because they are a better fit for graduate students than for undergraduate students. But we realize you may still want to check out possibilities at Harvard, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Pennsylvania, and Duke.
A Note on the Academic Common Market
Do you live in Texas or the South and you are interested in a highly specialized field in psychology that isn’t offered in your home state? Ask your university about the Academic Common Market. In over a dozen states, it’s possible to qualify for in-state tuition if you study a major not offered in your home state at a college where you would ordinarily have to pay out-of-state tuition.
How We Computed Our Rankings
Rankings of educational programs are ultimately subjective. No matter how many data points you consider in calculating a score for the best psychology schools, there is always a different way to weigh one factor or another that changes the rankings of the schools. We don’t claim to know the absolute rankings of schools, but we are confident that our rankings are in the ballpark — our number #1 school isn’t going to be at the bottom of anyone’s list, for example — and that every program we list gives you an opportunity to get a great education that gives you an advantage in finding a job.
We computed our rankings from data we found in various public and government sources, giving different weights to different factors
- 20% Acceptance Rates
- 20% Affordability
- 30% Earning Potential
- 10% Retention Data
- 20% Student Satisfaction
We always recommend that prospective students take a look at the information we have for every school on our lists. That’s the way you can find the best match to our personal and professional goals.
Help us out!
Have you graduated from one of these programs? Is there a great program we need to know more about? We welcome your comments below, and invite any updates on the information we provide for each school.