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Eye on Psi Chi: Winter 2018

The APA Guidelines for Undergraduates:
Your Covert Career Counselor

Paul Hettich, PhD, DePaul University
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In response to concerns by parents, students, and others who questioned the value of an undergraduate psychology major in today’s highly competitive and specialized job market, the APA Board of Educational Affairs published APA Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major: Version 2.0. in 2013. Commonly referred to as Guidelines 2.0, this curriculum document describes “five broad goals and corresponding student learning outcomes that represent reasonable department expectations for the undergraduate psychology major across different kinds of educational contexts” (p. 3, 2013).

Goal 1: Knowledge base in psychology
Goal 2: Scientific inquiry and critical thinking
Goal 3: Ethical and social responsibility in a diverse world
Goal 4: Communication
Goal 5: Professional development

Each goal generates student learning outcomes, and each outcome generates foundation indicators (performance expectations representing progress toward a psychology minor or an associate’s degree emphasizing psychology) and baccalaureate indicators (performance expectations at the completion of the major). To the extent a student successfully demonstrates the completion of the outcomes and indicators, certain workplace attributes (skills) can be inferred for each goal (APA, 2013).

Guidelines 2.0 does not specify the number of outcomes or indicators that students must complete, nor is there any mention of grades. Guidelines 2.0 are guidelines, not rules, and it is up to each psychology department to determine their implementation. The goals operate covertly (embedded in course assignments) to form a foundation upon which you construct a psychology major that guides your workplace preparedness. In Hettich (2016), I describe the strong connections between the goals and skills that employers seek. Although some instructors will help articulate the transferable skills that you develop through course assignments, it is your responsibility to identify and achieve the skills. Below, I describe each goal and its learning outcomes. Space does not permit me to identify the numerous foundation and baccalaureate indicators, but I encourage you to peruse them online (APA, 2013) because they represent specific skill building tasks.

Goal 1. Knowledge base in psychology. “Students should demonstrate fundamental knowledge and comprehension of the major concepts, theoretical perspectives, historical trends, and empirical findings to discuss how psychological principles apply to behavioral phenomena” (APA, 2013, p. 17). The outcomes for each goal are stated as “Students will …” For Goal 1, students will
  • describe key concepts, principles, and overarching themes in psychology;
  • develop a working knowledge of psychology’s content domains; and
  • describe applications of psychology.
When you think of psychology, you probably recall the concepts, theories, and research studies that you learn in your courses. Mastering Goal 1 outcomes is essential for students who plan to enter graduate programs in psychology. Some baccalaureate graduates might encounter job openings where specific knowledge and skills (e.g., research methods, statistics, behavior modification, abnormal behavior) are required. However, because most hiring managers are more concerned about the skills that graduates possess than their knowledge of psychological content, a psychology baccalaureate, plus other experiences, may be sufficient. Among the attributes that can be inferred from your successful demonstration of Goal 1, outcomes and indicators are capable of coping with complexity and ambiguity, curious, flexible in thinking, motivated, open minded, and psychologically literate.

Goal 2. Scientific inquiry and critical thinking. “The skills in this domain involve the development of scientific reasoning and problem solving, including effective research methods” (APA, 2013, p. 20). The outcomes of Goal 2 state that students will
  • use scientific reasoning to interpret psychological phenomena;
  • demonstrate psychology information literacy;
  • engage in innovative and integrative thinking and problem solving;
  • interpret, design, and conduct basic psychological research; and
  • incorporate sociocultural factors in scientific inquiry.
Although Goal 1 emphasizes the content of psychology, Goals 2 through 5 focus on skill development. Whether you plan to enter graduate school in psychology or another profession (e.g., health, human services, or business), or the workforce, achieving the Goal 2 outcomes is also essential. Critical thinking, reasoning, creativity, and problem solving represent the core of a liberal arts education; most employers seek these skills, along with career-specific knowledge and skills. You may never conduct another research study after you graduate, but you will be expected to know how to analyze, interpret, and critically evaluate information, research findings, and data across various domains and in diverse settings. Some attributes associated with Goal 2 include collaborative, constructively critical, creative, logical, persistent, precise, self-directed, systematic, and tolerant of ambiguity.

Goal 3. Ethical and social responsibility in a diverse world. “The skills in this domain involve the development of ethically and socially responsible behaviors for professional and personal settings in a landscape that involves increasing diversity” (APA, 2013, p. 26). To achieve this goal, students will
  • apply ethical standards to evaluate psychological science and practice;
  • build and enhance interpersonal relationships; and
  • adopt values that build community at local, national, and global levels.
Collectively, the outcomes of Goal 3 focus on values. College is an ideal venue for examining, testing, and influencing your value system. Ethical issues are addressed in many psychology courses and in other academic disciplines. In the diverse and complex world of university life, you will probably encounter ethical dilemmas in your personal, social, and professional relationships and in groups you join. Welcome these opportunities because they will occur subsequently, often in different forms, in your workplace and the other communities you join. Demonstration of these outcomes implies that you have achieved at some level of competence such attributes as community involved, courageous, ethical, fair minded, generous, moral, reliable, respectful, rigorous, sensitive, tolerant, and trustworthy.

Goal 4: Communication: “Students should demonstrate competence in writing and in oral and interpersonal communication skills” (p. 30). Students will
  • demonstrate effective writing for different purposes,
  • exhibit effective presentation skills for different purposes, and
  • interact effectively with others.
Written, oral, and interpersonal communication skills are top skills that employers seek; yet employers often complain of graduates’ deficiencies in them. Seek courses that require papers, oral presentations, and group projects. Be grateful to teachers who provide feedback; they are doing you a favor that you will appreciate in jobs where clear and concise oral and written communication is demanded, and effective face-to-face communication with customers and coworkers is critical. Participate in extracurricular activities to develop leadership, conflict management, and negotiation skills. Among the attributes associated with Goal 4 are attentive, comprehensible, flexible, investigative, precise, prepared, and respectful.

Goal 5: Professional Development. “The emphasis in this goal is on application of psychology-specific content and skills, effective self-reflection, project-management skills, teamwork skills, and career preparation” (APA, 2013, p. 33). To achieve this goal, students will
  • apply psychological content and skills to career goals,
  • exhibit self-efficacy and self-regulation,
  • refine project-management skills,
  • enhance teamwork capacity, and
  • develop meaningful professional direction for life after graduation.  
This goal is less covert than previous goals because it provides excellent advice for improving workplace preparedness. Study the Goal 5 indicators in Guidelines 2.0 to discern how specific components of your psychology major can help you acquire and succeed in your work. Among the attributes that can be inferred from your successful demonstration of Goal 5 are adaptable, collaborative, confident, conscientious, dependable, directed, efficient, industrious, intuitive, prepared, reflective, resilient, resourceful, responsible, and sensitive.

Concluding Remarks
I summarized portions of the Guidelines 2.0 to instill confidence that the knowledge and skills you acquire through your psychology major can provide a solid foundation for transitioning to work and career, if you persist. For each course in which you are enrolled, ask yourself: In what ways does this course help me achieve some of the five goals? To build on the foundation that the goals provide, you should also complete an internship, gain solid job experiences, work with career counselors regularly, and participate in other activities described in Hettich (2016). Finally, remember the wisdom of writer Miguel de Cervantes: Forewarned; forearmed. To be prepared is half the victory.

American Psychological Association Taskforce on Psychology Major Competencies. (2013). APA guidelines for the undergraduate psychology major. Version 2.0.
Washington, DC, American Psychological Association. Retrieved from
Hettich, P. (2016, Fall). Program your GPS: Guidelines to proficiency in skills for work and career. Eye on Psi Chi, 21(1), 20–24.

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. You can contact Paul at



Copyright 2018 (Vol. 22, Iss. 2) 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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