There's an enduring myth that a bachelor's degree in psychology is a road to career purgatory. But many students with psych degrees have created rewarding careers. For proof, read these recent grads' success stories:
Jessica Meehan, 23
University of New Hampshire, Class of 2004
Social Worker, Department of Social Services, Malden Area Office
Meehan works with individuals and families in crisis. She visits clients in their homes, collaborates with therapists, teachers, physicians, attorneys and others involved in individual cases and facilitates visits between parents and their children who are in foster care. She even has to occasionally remove children from their homes, "the worst part of the job," she says.
"It's a lot of responsibility, and it can be very tough at times," says Meehan. "But in general, it's very rewarding."
The counseling psychology course she took as an undergraduate is particularly valuable, since it focused heavily on family dynamics and family member roles. "I refer to what I learned in that course nearly every day," Meehan says.
Erin Stanley, 24
Lafayette College, Class of 2003
Case Manager, ValueOptions
Two of Stanley's favorite courses as a psych student were psychopharmacology and abnormal psychology. She draws from what she learned in those classes constantly in her work at ValueOptions, an outpatient behavioral health clinic. She manages a caseload of about 40 people diagnosed as seriously mentally ill.
"My priorities are ensuring that my caseload is coming in for appointments with the prescriber, that they are able to attend counseling if they want it, and that they take meds as prescribed," says Stanley, who double-majored in psychology and Spanish. "If I have people inpatient or incarcerated, I have to visit them. And I have a lot of meetings with residential staff for people who need supervision."
Stanley says she uses just about everything from her psychology major. "But thankfully, I don't have to use any of the research stuff I learned," she says with a chuckle.
Meredith Kish, 22
Purdue University, Class of 2004
Assistant Account Executive, 5W Public Relations
New York City
When Kish was a senior studying psychology at Purdue, a professor told her she'd never go anywhere with her degree unless she planned to teach college. "It was like he was trying to tell us to turn back and get another degree," Kish says.
Kish's professor wasn't the only one painting a stark picture of job hunting with a psychology degree. "My father even told me I was wasting my time, because I didn't plan on going into that industry or going to get my master's in that area," says Kish. "I figured, ‘this is my choice, and I know I can do anything with any degree.'"
Like many successful psych grads, Kish didn't rely on her degree to launch her career. She complemented her coursework with several internships and summer jobs in PR, sales and advertising. She even took an internship after graduation at 5W Public Relations, where she was hired permanently three months later.
Kish now works closely with members of the media, drawing from her psychology background to constantly keep communication open with them, she says.
Rachel Shasha, 24
University of California, Los Angeles, Class of 2004
Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor, Equinox and Crunch Fitness Clubs
Shasha put her own personal spin on her psychology degree by studying health psychology. She also worked on several research projects on issues like obesity and eating disorders.
So it's not surprising that she's now a personal trainer and group fitness instructor at two fitness clubs. In her work, Shasha taps her psychology knowledge not only to motivate clients but also to watch for trouble.
"Knowing about different psychological disorders helps me train when dealing with clients who are obsessive about exercise or their diet or who express signs of depression or an eating disorder," says Shasha. "Although I can't diagnose anything, I can use what I've learned to be cognizant of when a problem is predominant enough for me to suggest professional help."