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Eye on Psi Chi: Spring/Summer 2014

So What Can You Do
With Your Liberal Arts Degree
in Psychology?

Paul Hettich, PhD, DePaul University (IL)

Some will say "Not much!” Others will add "unless you obtain a graduate degree.” I strongly disagree. However, to those of you who want to attend graduate school but will not (for whatever reasons), what is your backup plan? After all, only "20–24% of psychology baccalaureate recipients continue into graduate study in psychology” (APA Center for Workforce Studies, 2014, p. 3), although other individuals will enter other graduate or professional programs immediately after graduation or later. Furthermore, although the percentage of liberal arts and sciences seniors who applied for a job and received at least one offer increased from 46% in 2013 to 48% in 2014, psychology was not one of the five disciplines showing the greatest improvement (NACE, 2014).

In this column, I summarize major points from three resources that should instill confidence (if you act) that your liberal arts education with a psychology major is a valuable preparation for your life and career. When you enter the workforce, however, do not expect to encounter the immediate and well-paying opportunities offered to your engineering, accounting, or nursing classmates; you may have to experience a few low paying, uninspiring jobs before you achieve your focus. With that in mind, take the time to thoughtfully examine the resources below to learn about what you can expect from the workplace, what the workplace expects from you, and how you should prepare for it.

1. An Online Resource to Enable Undergraduate Psychology Majors to Identify and Investigate 172 Psychology and Psychology-Related Careers
by Drew C. Appleby, Brandon S. Millspaugh, and Melissa J. Hammersley (2011).

This extraordinary website identifies numerous potential careers and links them to related resources such as the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT), the Occupational Information Network (O*NET), and the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH). Careers that require an advanced degree are marked with an asterisk. If one or more of these careers interest you, why not conduct informational interviews (described in Hettich, 2012) to gain further information?

2. An Arts & Science Degree: Defining Its Value in the Workplace. CERI Research Brief 5-2013
by Andy Chan and Phil Gardner.

In this report, 815 employer responses to a survey about liberal arts graduates in the workplace were categorized by type of organization (for-profit company, nonprofit, government, educational, and health service provider), organization size, economic sector (e.g., professional/scientific services, manufacturing, financial/insurance services, educational services, not-for-profit, government, information services), and the composition (percent) of arts and science, A&S, graduates in the organizations’ workforce (1–25%, 26–55%, and 56–100%).

Of the 27 categories of jobs to which A&S graduates were assigned (Table 2 in the report), the most frequently mentioned were (in descending order from 41% to 20%): administrative services, customer services, business services, marketing, media and communication, information management, human resources, and computer services. The top two assignments were identical in the high, medium, and low composition organizations (Table 3). Although the most frequently mentioned assignments might not inspire you, employers maintain that such positions often require persons who can grasp the organization as a whole, integrate diverse information to make it meaningful, solve problems quickly, and interact with diverse colleagues. "For many A&S graduates, these positions are stepping stones and accelerators into an organization and a career” (p. 4).

Table 4 identifies the most important work attitudes and behaviors that employers seek: strong work ethic, responsibility/accountability, punctuality, cooperation with coworkers, adaptability, and working with limited direction. To what extent do you possess each of these attributes? In what settings could you strengthen them? Chan and Gardner also discuss strengths and weaknesses in A&S students and non-A&S students (Table 5), employer expectations of applicants during the recruiting process (Table 6), and differences in student preparedness required for positions within the five organizational types (Table 7). Tables 6 and 7 are must reads!

Employers were also asked how colleges and universities can better prepare A&S students to be successfully recruited and successful on the job. Respondents’ recommendations were grouped into 11 categories from most to least mentioned. Below are brief summary comments or quotations for each. When you read the full report, note the many incisive (and often biting) comments regarding these issues.

  • Preprofessional Experiences: Internships are the most preferred experiences.
  • Curriculum: Acquire a basic knowledge of business and technology.
  • Skills and Competencies: Master the soft skills (e.g., interpersonal, group, and leadership) and be able to express and apply all of your skills to the workplace.
  • Mindset: Too many students lack career direction and possess a hazy view of the world of work.
  • Communication: Although communication skills are a major asset of A&S students, employers strongly believe these skills must be improved.
  • Professionalism (Expectations): "The gulf between campus and the workplace is enormous. Students have a poor understanding of what is expected of them on the other side” (p. 17; See Hettich, 2013 for additional remarks about expectations).
  • Job Search: Although career centers play a major role in preparing students for the job search, the big gains in a successful search depend upon students’ ability to resolve the mindset and curriculum issues above.
  • Critical Thinking: Employers acknowledge that A&S students may be critical thinkers, but students have difficulty transferring this skill beyond academic settings.
  • Analytical and Technology: Students need more practice in data analytics. (Students: Appreciate your statistics, research methods, and research coursework!)
  • Specific Skills: "Students need to be proficient in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and Outlook” (p. 18). SPSS and Qualtrics are not used in many organizations at the entry level.
  • Entitlement (Attitude): "Probably no single aspect of today’s youth riles employers more than their sense of entitlement” (p. 19; See Hettich, 2013).

Finally, be sure to review the other informative workplace-related surveys posted on the CERI website.

3. It Takes More Than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success. An Online Survey Among Employers Conducted on Behalf of the Association of American Colleges and Universities
by Hart Research Associates.

This Hart report by the Association of American Colleges and
Universities is based on a survey of 318 employers whose organizations operate with at least 25 employees and at least 25% of their new hires possessing an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. The report contains a 6-point overview and 11 key findings. Each of the six points quoted below is thoughtfully elaborated on in the report on pages 1 to 3.

  1. "Innovation is a priority for employers today.”
  2. "Employers recognize capacities that cut across majors as critical to a candidate’s potential for career success, and they view these skills as more important than a student’s choice of undergraduate major.”
  3. "Employers recognize the importance of liberal education and the liberal arts.”
  4. "Employers endorse a blended model of liberal and applied learning.”
  5. "Employers think that more college graduates have the skills and preparation needed for entry-level positions than for advancement.”
  6. "Employers express interest in e-portfolios and partnerships with colleges to ensure college graduates’ successful transition to the workplace.”

The 11 findings that follow the overview generally expand the six points and provide important information, insights, and recommendations for strengthening workplace preparedness.

Concluding Comments
I focused on these three resources to enhance your understanding of the positive, but complex, relationship between your liberal arts education and workplace issues. However, this article is just a summary. If you truly want to use the resources optimally, then immerse yourself in them. Thoughtfully examine the psychology-related occupations in light of your interests, experiences, and abilities, and conduct informational interviews. Search for connections among these resources, and apply this valuable information to your career planning, course-work, internships, part-time job, and job search. Become proactive by discussing this material with your academic advisor, teachers, family, friends in your psychology club and Psi Chi meetings, and in your capstone and internship courses. Don’t begin to critically examine the relationship between your liberal arts education and the workplace after you have stumbled into a postcollege job where you find yourself constantly asking, "Did I have to go to college to do this?” Do it now!

American Psychological Association Center for Workforce Studies. (2014). Frequently asked questions. Retrieved from

Appleby, D. C., Millspaugh, B. S., & Hammersley M. J. (2011) An online resource to enable undergraduate psychology majors to identify and investigate 172 psychology and psychology-related careers. Retrieved from

Association of American Colleges and Universities, Hart Research Associates. (2013). It takes more than a major: Employer priorities for college learning and student success. Retrieved from

Chan, A., & Gardner, P. (2013) An arts & science degree: Defining its value in the workplace (CERI Research Brief 5-2013) Retrieved

Hettich, P. (2012, Spring). A three-step guide to exploring occupations with your baccalaureate degree. Eye on Psi Chi, 16(3), 12–13. Retrieved from

Hettich, P. (2013, Spring/Summer). Deal with it: When your great expectations collide with reality. Eye on Psi Chi, 17(3), 6–9. Retrieved from

National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). (2014, May 28). Liberal arts majors help bolster offer rates for class of 2014 graduates. Retrieved from

Paul Hettich, PhD, Professor Emeritus at DePaul University (IL), was an Army personnel psychologist, program evaluator in an education R&D lab, and a corporate applied scientist—positions that created a "real world” foundation for his career in college teaching and administration. He was inspired to write about college-to-workplace readiness issues by graduates and employers who revealed a major disconnect between university and workplace expectations, cultures, and practices.

Copyright 2014 (Volume 18, Issue 3) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology



Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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