Bachelor’s in Psychology Major Requirements

A bachelor’s degree in psychology is a popular major for college students. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, it is the fourth most popular undergraduate major after business, health professions, and social science.

As you may or may not know, psychology is an exceptionally broad field that encompasses studies of everything from mental disorders to neurobiology to how people learn at different life stages.

Given that this field has such a broad practical and theoretical basis, there are many different psychology classes in college. What’s more, the psychology major requirements are quite broad as well.

Below is an outline of psychology degree requirements that are common at colleges and universities in the United States.

Psychology Prerequisites

At most colleges and universities, there are general prerequisites for admission rather than specific prerequisites for a psychology major.

If one intends to major in psych, it’s recommended to have taken psychology courses at the high school level. Whether it’s advanced placement psychology, International Baccalaureate psychology, or simply a high school-level psychology course, having a comprehensive introduction to the study of psychology can help tremendously as one continues their education at the collegiate level.

In many cases, colleges and universities require not just that a student has taken an introductory psychology course, but that they have done well in that course. For example, a college might require a student to have taken AP psychology and have scored a 4 or a 5 on the AP psychology test for immediate admission to the undergraduate psychology program. If a student cannot fulfill this prerequisite, a similar course must be taken in college to fulfill it.

What’s more, related studies are often required, including coursework in the biological and social sciences, like biology and sociology, respectively. Again, one would have to demonstrate successful studies in these courses with an appropriate course grade or test scores.

Granted, what qualifies as “appropriate” course grades and test scores varies from one school to the next. University X might require students to have at least a B in each prerequisite course while University Y might require students to have at least a C in prerequisite courses.

In some cases, colleges and universities require students to have a satisfactory undergraduate GPA to obtain admission to the psychology program, such as a 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale. More specifically, many institutions require students to maintain a satisfactory GPA in their prerequisite courses, such as those outlined above.

So, to summarize, though psychology prerequisites might vary from one college or university to the next, some general guidelines typically apply:

  • Successful completion of general psychology
  • Satisfactory test scores for AP or IB psychology
  • Satisfactory overall undergraduate GPA
  • Satisfactory undergraduate GPA in prerequisite courses

Psychology Classes in College

As noted earlier, psychology is a field of study that is broad in scope. Therefore, psychology major requirements in college range a broad spectrum from general studies to those that are highly specific.

At virtually any institution of higher learning, you’ll find psychology major courses that include general psychology and history of psychology, which offer general overviews of the field and its development. You can also take courses on more specific topics, like educational psychology and developmental psychology that focus on exploring how humans learn and develop across the lifespan.

Additionally, psychology classes include abnormal psychology, or the study of maladaptive behaviors, cognitive psychology, which examines how people think, remember, and perceive the world around them, and experimental psychology, in which students learn how to develop and carry out psychological research on human subjects.

Of course, psychology major requirements leave room for students to explore psychology classes that are electives, rather than just the required coursework. Depending on the program and the institution, elective courses can be highly unique, like geriatric psychology, trauma psychology, comparative psychology, or the psychology of the African American experience.

So, again, you can see the diversity of psychology at work. When determining which psychology classes to take in college, there is typically quite a lot of choice!

Below is a list of the common psychology major courses discussed above along with a brief description of each. These can be considered core requirements that students have to fulfill as part of their major studies:

  • General psychology – This class is an introductory overview of the field in which students explore virtually all facets of psychology, albeit on a very basic level.
  • History of psychology – Coursework revolves around an introductory overview of the development of psychology as its own science, including an examination of key psychology figures like Sigmund Freud, John B. Watson, B.F. Skinner, and Carl Jung.
  • Biological psychology – As the name indicates, this course involves a deep look at the relationship between biological factors and human behavior.
  • Cognitive psychology – Courses in cognitive psychology examine processes like memories, thoughts, perception, attention, and learning.
  • Developmental psychology – Students in developmental psychology courses learn how humans develop across the lifespan and explore common theories of development, like Piaget’s sensorimotor stages of development and Freud’s psychosexual stages of development.
  • Abnormal psychology – Psychology classes in this realm analyze various kinds of psychological disorders, like depression, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, and psychotic disorders like schizophrenia. Students typically also explore possible causes and treatments for common psychological disorders in this class.
  • Social psychology – A blend of sociology and psychology, this psychology class investigates the origins of social interactions and how social interactions influence individual behavior. 

Listed below are psychology major courses that are usually considered as psychology electives:

  • Research methods in psychology – Students study psychological methods for conducting research, such as experimental design and ethical considerations of research.
  • Psychological statistics – Students learn how to analyze and interpret data related to psychological research.
  • Educational psychology – This class examines how humans learn and how psychology can improve the learning process for children, adolescents, and adults.
  • Experimental psychology – Students learn how to design and carry out experiments that study specific behaviors and outcomes.
  • Geriatric psychology – This specialty in psychology is concerned with aging and common mental health issues that come with it, such as memory loss.
  • Trauma psychology – Trauma psychology focuses on acute psychological treatments for individuals that have suffered trauma, such as natural disasters or acts of terrorism. 
  • Comparative psychology – Psychology courses in this field draw comparisons between animal behavior and human behavior, and use animal studies to help better understand how and why humans do the things they do.
  • Psychological testing – Coursework in psychological testing introduces students to various kinds of tests, such as personality and IQ tests, and explores how to administer them and interpret their results.
  • Neuropsychology – This subfield of psychology is particularly interested in examining how behavior, emotion, and cognition are all interrelated.
  • Forensic psychology – Forensic psychology courses explore the relationship between psychology and the legal system, such as how and why criminal behavior develops. 

This is just a small selection of elective psychology classes that might be available. In reality, the breadth and depth of psychology courses reach much farther, which gives students vast opportunities to drill down to very specific areas of study to meet their psychology major requirements.

Psychology Major Requirements

It is important to note that the psychology course requirements that students must fulfill to graduate with a bachelor’s in psychology vary somewhat from one institution to the next.

For instance, at one university, psychology undergrad students might be required to take experimental psychology methods where at another institution such a requirement might not exist. Likewise, psych major requirements can also vary depending on the type of undergraduate degree that’s offered.

For example, a bachelor of science degree in psychology often has more science, math, and statistics course requirements than a bachelor of arts degree in psychology.

That being said, there are general psych major requirements that are quite common from one school to the next. Below is a sample of what the psych major requirements might be for a bachelor of science psychology program:

Core courses (each of the following might be required):

  • General psychology
  • Biological psychology
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Cognitive psychology
  • Social psychology

Elective courses (students might be required to take 1-3 or more of the following):

  • Death and dying
  • Narrative psychology
  • Forensic psychology
  • Psychology and chronic illness
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Psychometrics
  • Psychopathology
  • Psychology of gender
  • Theories of personality

Non-major requirements and electives:

  • Introduction to biology
  • Microbiology or Macrobiology
  • Zoology
  • Introduction to chemistry
  • Trigonometry
  • Statistics
  • Microeconomics or macroeconomics
  • Social Science
  • Mass communications, public speaking or interpersonal communication
  • Criminal justice
  • Political science
  • Sociology
  • Health or physical education

Furthermore, many colleges and universities offer undergraduate psychology students the opportunity to earn credits in advanced seminar courses (i.e., intensive courses that meet on weekends or during holiday breaks), as teaching assistants, and as research assistants for professors.

For example, a student in a bachelor of science program in psychology might work as an assistant to a professor that’s studying animal behavior. In this capacity, a student might assist the professor with experimental design, data analysis and interpretation, and presenting findings in written form for publication in journal articles.

Practicum and internship opportunities might also be available in which students get to observe practicing psychologists in the field. A good example of this might be a student that’s especially interested in psychometry taking part in a practicum experience in which they shadow a school psychologist in an elementary school.

Whether you pursue a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of science, psychology major requirements usually dictate that students have anywhere from around 30 credit hours of coursework in psychology up to 60 credit hours of coursework in the major field.

The studies in the major area are combined with general education requirements to meet the credits required for graduation, which in many cases is 120 credit hours. Generally speaking, students take four years to complete an undergraduate degree, though it is possible to shorten or extend that timeline as needed.

As shown in the examples above, no matter how long it takes to complete the degree requirements, students have a wide range of courses from which they can choose to meet their psychology degree requirements.

Things to Consider When Choosing a College or University

Aside from the prerequisites, the psychology degree requirements, the expense of the program, and whether it’s a bachelor of arts or science degree, it’s important to think about other aspects of the college experience that can influence the quality of your educational experience.

Today more than ever, colleges and universities are offering undergraduate programs in psychology that allow students to learn remotely rather than coming on campus for class.

Though remote learning means students might miss out on some of the social aspects of college life (i.e., living in the dorms, attending sporting events), online learning is often more flexible and allows students to study at times that work for their schedules, rather than meeting on-campus at a specific time.

Likewise, online learning can help students save money since there is no need to pay room and board, parking fees, gas to commute, and so forth.

If choosing to study on-campus, class size is an important factor to consider, as smaller class sizes are often associated with a deeper level of learning and more personalized instruction.

Additionally, if you think you might want to pursue an advanced degree, like a master’s degree in psychology, it’s worth investigating whether the college or university you attend has such a program. Often, transitioning from undergraduate to graduate studies is more streamlined process if you do so at the same institution.

Whether you study online or on-campus, the financial aid packages that are available are extremely important. Collegiate studies are not cheap, and for many students, the availability of financial aid is the presiding factor that determines where they study psychology.

Ultimately, studying psychology is an interesting and challenging journey with many possibilities to gain insights into human behavior. As explained above, you’ll find many opportunities along the way to learn, grow, develop, and to look inward and learn more about who you are as a person.

Sean Jackson

B.A. Social Studies Education | University of Wyoming

M.S. Counseling | University of Wyoming

B.S. Information Technology | University of Massachusetts

September  2019

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