In my experience, students are confused and unfocused about their career and academic goals for two reasons: (1) they don't have much information about the variety of career/academic options available or what these may require and (2) they don't know themselves very well, at least with respect to how personal qualities may be related to career options. Regarding the former, you need to know what resources can help you explore the many career options out there. We'll cover this issue in the next two sections, "Entry-level Jobs for Psychology Majors" and "Master's- and Doctoral-level Careers in Psychology and Related Areas."
To address the second reason for "career confusion," it's important to note that a number of factors contribute to career interests and success: intellectual abilities, interests, skills, and values. Your challenge is to know the depth and scope of your capacities and interests so that you can measure these against the requirements of various careers. Individuals with wide-ranging interests have the advantage of having many options and the disadvantage of having to choose among them. It goes without saying that people vary a lot in how well they know themselves. If you feel that you're up to speed in this area, you might want to skip to the next section and jump directly to "Entry-level Jobs for Psychology Majors." If you'd like some suggestions for self-exploration, read on.
These are things at which you're good and which come relatively easily to you. These include general intellectual abilities as well as specific one such as music, art, and mechanical abilities.
Three practical measures of your intellectual abilities are your grades in specific high school and college courses, your overall grade-point average (GPA), and your scores on scholastic aptitude tests such as the Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT) or the American College Testing Program (ACT). (Of course, if you are/were not motivated to do your best, your grades and scores may not accurately reflect your abilities.)
Prospective employers and graduate admissions committees will use GPAs, among other things, to determine your eligibility for jobs and graduate programs. In the GSU Careers in Psychology course, students calculate their projected GPA at graduation. In fact, we have students calculate two averages: their likely GPA and their highest possible GPA. This exercise has several benefits. First, knowledge of this information may motivate you to work harder in your future courses to improve your grades in the terms you have remaining. Second, the exercise will give you an idea of how "competitive" an applicant you will be in the job search and, especially, for graduate school. And, although this information may be painful--e.g., you may have to accept the reality that your 2.75 won't get you into a Ph.D. program, you will avoid the greater pain of learning this too late to do much about it. Knowing in advance how you stand gives you time in which to make alternative plans, thereby maximizing your chances of reaching your ideal career goal.
What if your highest possible GPA turns out to be lower than you would like? For one thing, you can prepare especially hard for the Graduate Record Exam, the entrance exam used by most graduate programs in which psychology majors are interested (see "What Is the GRE?"), hoping a high score here will compensate for your lower GPA. Secondly, you may have to adjust your expectations about graduate school--that is, if you were hoping to apply to a Ph.D. program in clinical psychology, you may have to think about a master's program in psychology (or in clinical social work or counselor education) because these typically have lower GPA and GRE entrance requirements. (For more information about these options, see the sections, "Master's- and Doctoral-level Careers in Psychology and Related Areas" and "Graduate School Options for Psychology Majors."
Have you ever known anyone who was good at something (ability), but who didn't really enjoy doing it? It happens. This is why interests are important--they motivate us to want to do particular things. Because you're likely to be more satisfied with your job if it permits you to do things you like, it's good to choose a career that matches well with your interests.
One way to gauge your interests is to note how you spend your leisure time--i.e., do you practice your guitar, work on the computer, surf the web, work on old cars or repair broken appliances, volunteer at the homeless shelter? Another is to reflect on long-standing interests: Have you always been drawn to animals? the elderly? history?
Skills are specific abilities. For example, there are a variety of communication skills: You may be good at communicating effectively with a group, communicating well with just one other person, using words in writing, etc. Keep in mind that you can typically improve skills with practice--e.g., using a word processing program.
A useful resource for assessing your skills is the chapter on "What Skills Do You Most Enjoy Using?" in the job manual, What Color Is Your Parachute (see "Books on Careers for Psychology Majors").
Values concern those things individuals believe are desirable or good. Some people place a high value on integrity; others, on security; still others, on pleasure, independence, power, adventure, or love. Because values are often deeply held, it's painful if your work causes major value conflicts. Thus, it's important to be clear about your values so you can choose a career that doesn't put you in this position.
APA-style reference for this page:
Lloyd, M. A. (1997, August 28). Exploring career-related abililties, interests, skills, and values. [Online]. Available: http://www.psywww.com/careers/explore.htm.
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