Provided that they conform to the area of study guidelines, many concentrations related to children, adolescents, adults and families may fit well within the human development area of study. Psychology, however, is the only disciplinary concentration in human development, and, as such, studies in this concentration should be selected to meet the general expectations in the field.
In recent years, the field of psychology has changed and expanded so that psychology departments are increasingly diverse in their offerings. Thus, it is no longer feasible to provide students with a single comprehensive plan of studies that "covers" the field. Instead, when developing their programs, students and their mentors should consider the possibility of either emphasizing a particular focus or direction or designing a general plan of study in psychology that provides a basis for graduate school or some other specific goal. This section is designed to provide some assistance in that planning process.
The Empire State College website contains much information for students who are in the process of designing their degree programs. The human development site has relatively current information that also may be relevant to students concentrating in psychology. We suggest that students visit this site as they begin their investigations, and make use of the Internet in seeking out additional information.
The best source of current information about psychology, however, will come from the American Psychological Association. We strongly recommend that all students concentrating in psychology become student members of this organization. Applications are available from human development mentors, or by contacting:
American Psychology Association Membership Office, 750 First Street NE Washington, DC 20002-4242 202-336-5500 or 800-374-2721 (ext. 5580 for membership) www.apa.org
Membership in this organization includes two publications: The APA Monitor, an easily accessible monthly magazine with current news about research, education, policy, legal issues, and jobs; and The American Psychologist, a monthly journal with scholarly articles of general interest to all professional psychologists, often with a focus on application.
The APA also publishes a large number of other journals and books, which are available to members at a discount. Of particular interest to undergraduates are the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA )and Is Psychology the Major for You?: Planning for Your Undergraduate Years (Woods and Wilkinson (Eds.))
The first book, an important reference for every student who concentrates in psychology, describes how to write a research article, defines the APA writing style and provides details about how to cite and list any and all kinds of references. The second book presents an overview of the discipline, describes the kinds of critical skills psychology students can acquire and offers a description of a variety of careers open to psychology students. While most students might want to purchase The Publication Manual, the second book can probably be borrowed from a library (or possibly a human development mentor).
There are three major sources of information about how undergraduate degree programs in psychology might be constructed.
Benjamin, L.T. (2001). American psychology's struggles with its curriculum: Should a thousand flowers bloom? American Psychologist, 56, 735-742.
Brewer, C.L. (1997). Undergraduate education in psychology: Will the mermaids sing? American Psychologist, 52, 434-441.
McGovern, T. V., Furumoto, L., Halpern, D. F., Kimble, G. A., & McKeachie, W. J. (1991). Liberal education, study in depth, and the arts and sciences major: psychology. American Psychologist,46, 598-605.
Of the three articles, the most directly relevant, and possibly the most useful, is still McGovern et al (1991). However, reading all three articles will give students a good understanding of why psychologists have been, and continue to be, reluctant to propose a standardized curriculum for all students. The history is interesting, and the issue of standardization is one that extends well beyond the discipline of psychology.
Note: An undergraduate concentration in psychology is not sufficient for a career as a psychologist. The objective orientation and quantitative skills emphasized in most psychology studies, however, are highly regarded by many employers in almost any profession. Thus, the concentration can be useful for those with bachelor's degrees that are immediately seeking work. For any professional work in psychology, however, a graduate degree, in many cases a Ph.D. or equivalent, is essential, and several of the better known options are described below.
Of course, a psychology concentration prepares students not just for graduate programs in psychology, but also for many other professional programs, such as in law, business, education, health or social work. If graduate study in any field is a possible goal, either immediately or in the near future, the degree program ought to be designed with that possibility in mind. Students should familiarize themselves with graduate school entrance requirements and make every effort to include them in their program.
A Ph.D. is the degree of choice for those wishing to become a professional psychologist — either in applied areas (e.g., mental health and industry) or in higher education. Students who plan on pursuing a Ph.D. should take special care in the design of their programs. The following studies are almost mandatory:
Note: It is important that the undergraduate program be heavily academic (as opposed to vocational or professional). Graduate psychology departments are not impressed with counseling, therapy or psychoanalytic courses on undergraduate transcripts. The faculty in most Ph.D. programs believe that such courses should be undertaken only in graduate school.
The Doctorate in Psychology is a more recent degree designed for those with applied interests, particularly in clinical psychology, and with relatively less interest in the research and science emphases of accredited Ph.D. programs. Although these programs differ from the Ph.D. programs, the requirements are quite similar. Details about their requirements should be obtained from the universities directly.
The M.S.W. offers a faster route than the two doctoral programs to state-recognized credentials for doing clinical work with individual clients. In New York state, holders of this degree (along with those holding a Ph.D., Psy.D. or M.D. in psychiatry) can receive third-party payments as a therapist. Those schools that offer these programs are usually more flexible in the knowledge of psychology that they expect or require of their applicants. Some even may welcome the kinds of counseling experiences frowned upon in typical Ph.D. graduate psychology programs. A key activity here is to study the entrance requirements for particular programs. If possible, the graduate advisor at the schools that offer these programs should be interviewed; they might provide direct advice about a student’s proposed degree plan.
A number of master's programs in psychology can be found at many different colleges, either in the liberal arts or in specialty areas such as counseling or school psychology, art therapy, alcoholism studies and so forth. The general liberal arts programs clearly extend students' knowledge and understanding of psychology, and no doubt enhance their lives or work skills, but these programs are not intended as preparation for a profession.
The specialty programs, however, particularly if accredited by the appropriate professional association, do prepare students for work. The colleges or universities that offer them should be able to provide solid information about both requirements and curricula, and about post-graduate employment.
Once the concentration studies have been selected according to the needs, interests and future plans of the student, the psychology concentration must be defended in a written rationale. Such a rationale will ordinarily include at least the following information: